Thursday, July 2, 2009

Senate HELP Committee Rolls Out Healthcare Bill.

From the AP:

Democrats on a key Senate Committee outlined a revised and far less costly health care plan Wednesday night that includes a government-run insurance option and an annual fee on employers who do not offer coverage to their workers.
The plan carries a 10-year price tag of slightly over $600 billion, and would lead toward an estimated 97 percent of all Americans having coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Chris Dodd said in a letter to other members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
By contrast, an earlier, incomplete proposal carried a price tag of roughly $1 trillion and would have left millions uninsured, CBO analysts said in mid-June.
The letter indicated the cost and coverage improvements resulted from two changes. The first calls for a government-run health insurance option to compete with private coverage plans, an option that has drawn intense opposition from Republicans.
"We must not settle for legislation that merely gestures at reform," the two Democrats wrote. "We must deliver on the promise of true change."
Additionally, the revised proposal calls for a $750 annual fee on employers for each full-time worker not offered coverage through their job. The fee would be set at $375 for part-time workers. Companies with fewer than 25 employees would be exempt. The fee was forecast to generate $52 billion over 10 years, money the government would use to help provide subsidies to those who cannot afford insurance.
The same provision is also estimated to greatly reduce the number of workers whose employers would drop coverage, thus addressing a major concern noted by CBO when it reviewed the earlier proposals.
With its government option, the proposal is unlikely to gain any bipartisan support in the committee.
Separately, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee are at work trying to reach agreement on an alternative that calls for creation of nonprofit cooperatives to sell insurance in competition with private industry. Agreement has been elusive on that and other issues, and it is not clear whether a deal is possible before Democrats opt for a more partisan approach. (Editor's note: screw bipartisanship! Get healthcare reform done, and do it right!)
In their letter, Kennedy and Dodd said the Congressional Budget Office "has carefully reviewed our complete bill, and we are pleased to report that CBO has scored it at $611.4 billion over 10 years, with the new coverage provisions scored at $597 billion. ...The completed bill virtually eliminates the dropping of currently covered employees from employer-sponsored health plans.
"In addition, our bill, combined with the work being done by our colleagues in the Finance Committee, will dramatically reduce the number of uninsured--fully 97 percent of Americans will have coverage, a major achievement."
Three committees in the House have been at work for weeks on a plan expected to come to a vote by the end of July.

And this surprising--no, shocking--item, forwarded to JackRabbit Café by The Best-Looking Man In Show Business Today:

Wal-Mart, the former poster child for corporate villainy, once again has surprised both its critics and its corporate peers by backing President Barack Obama's plans to force employers to provide health insurance to workers, the Wall Street Journal reports. This show of support from the nation's largest private employer could give much-needed momentum to "one of the most-contentious aspects of legislation taking shape in Congress to fix the health system" and help provide coverage for the 46 million uninsured Americans, the paper notes. It's also making many CEOs choke on their coffee (Wednesday) morning. As the WSJ describes, the National Retail Federation, the industry's main lobby, said it was "flabbergasted" by Wal-Mart's move. The New York Times meanwhile shines a spotlight on the growing number of people who are forced into personal bankruptcy by huge medical bills. Three-quarters of them actually had health insurance to begin with, the NYT writes, reflecting that, "even as Washington tries to cover the tens of millions of Americans without medical insurance, many health policy experts say simply giving everyone an insurance card will not be enough to fix what is wrong with the system." Advocates argue that any universal health insurance program must guarantee a "base level of coverage" for all those it covers.

Attention--Democrats: You have a super-majority in your caucus. Screw bipartisanship! Get healthcare reform done, and do it right!

BeltwayBlips: vote it up!

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