Finance Panel Takes On Health Reform, Day Six
After a late evening of animated debate Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee is gathering once more this morning for what Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has promised will be another marathon day discussing amendments to the panel’s proposal for health reform.
The amendment process has been something like organized chaos. Originally, Finance Committee members introduced 564 amendments, though Baucus incorporated many of those into the bill even before the markup process began. Others are overlapping, and so can be combined. Many more will never see the light of day. Through yesterday, the committee has considered 81 separate amendments, 23 of them Tuesday alone.
Baucus has divided the amendments into three broad categories: health care delivery, coverage and financing. Today the focus will be on the last, though lawmakers can also introduce proposals addressing the other two. Baucus hopes to pass a complete bill out of the committee this week in order to bring it to the floor next week.
Among the most contentious amendments will be one hiking the threshold at which high-cost health plans would be slapped with an excise tax — a central device for funding the expanded coverage under the bill. The original Baucus proposal applied the tax to individual plans costing more than $8,000 and family plans costing more than $21,000.
Though that tax would hit the insurance companies, critics warn that those companies would simply pass the costs on to patients, creating problems of affordability — particularly for those in high-risk jobs (firefighters, coal miners, etc.), who tend to have high-cost plans because they often need more care than other workers. Heeding those critics, Baucus last week upped the thresholds — for those in high-risk jobs and non-Medicare retirees aged 55 and up — to $8,750 for individuals and $23,000 for families. That hasn’t satisfied everyone, however, and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is pushing an amendment to hike those floors further, to $9,800 and $25,000 respectively.
Kerry just spoke on his amendment, then withdrew it, saying he hopes to work out a behind-the-scenes compromise with Baucus “to find the sweet spot” that will provide revenue to fund the larger bill without harming blue-collar workers in high-cost plans. Stay tuned…