Finance Committee to Continue Work on Health Bill Next Week

This has been a big week in the Senate Finance Committee regarding work on the health care reform bill. The Committee endued many all-day sessions this week in their efforts to mark up the health care reform bill.

Wrapping up for the week (to resume next Tuesday), the Committee has left a number of amendments yet to be debated.

Over 500 total amendments have been offered to the bill, and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus has put considerable pressure on the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to re-score the bill including the effects of amendments. The sheer number of amendments is the major reason why the panel could not finish its work this week, which was the original goal of Chairman Baucus.

Baucus began the markup process with a $900 billion bill that would expand coverage to approximately all but 5 percent of legal residents. Additionally, it would reduce the federal budget deficit by around $49 billion over ten years. The bill would result in $300 billion in cuts to Medicare spending, and would also levy taxes and fees on healthcare companies to help cover the spending that would be required to cover so many new people in the system.

While it looks like the bill that will come out of Committee could have the support of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, centrist Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Tom Carper seem to have indicated their support will rely on Baucus’ ability to reduce health care costs and cut the budget deficit. Snowe has also offered a number of amendments that did not come up in discussion this week.
One of the highlights this week was when the Committee took up the task of debating proposals to cut Medicare on Thursday. By a vote of 13-10 they rejected a proposal (brought forward by Senator Bill Nelson) to require pharmaceutical companies to increase the amount of discounts given Medicare on prescription drugs for seniors. This proposal would have cost over $100 billion over ten years. Baucus, Carper, and Menendez voted along with the Committee’s Republicans to reject that proposal, which would have gone against a prior agreement between Baucus, the Administration, and PhRMA, made earlier this summer.
Chairman Baucus postponed a vote that was expected today on a proposal to create a public option that would compete with private insurance companies. It should take place next week.
Meanwhile in the House, Democratic leaders discussed the public option today in a meeting lasting over three hours. The timetable for bringing a measure to the House floor is not yet certain; they are hoping to finish writing their bill next week for submission to the CBO for scoring. Full debate by the House could begin in mid-October.
CRFB will release on Monday a comparative analysis of the Finance Committee bill, the House Tri-Committee bill, and the Senate HELP Committee bill.