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Anthem: This Week in Health Reform - September 14-18, 2009

Sep 22, 2009

Building a Sustainable Health Care System: Event Recording Now Available

If you didn't have the opportunity to participate in our webinar event, "Building a Sustainable Health Care System," you can now listen to last week's presentation. Visit the Health Action Network to download a copy of the presentation or to view the event recording.
This Week in Health Care Reform
Lawmakers continued to negotiate health care reform legislation this week. On Wednesday, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, revealed his proposed reform legislation despite ongoing concerns from both Republicans and Democrats.

Senate Negotiations

Sen. Baucus Unveils Proposed Legislation: On Wednesday, after months of negotiations to develop a bipartisan reform proposal, Sen. Baucus unveiled a major health care reform bill. The GOP, to date, has withheld its support of the bill.

With an expected price tag of $856 billion, the bill proposes insurance cooperatives, individual mandates, taxes on high-end insurance plans, fees on industry players, Medicaid expansions and government subsidies for qualifying families. It would also prohibit insurance companies from dropping or denying coverage based on preexisting conditions. The bill is deficit-neutral and less costly than prior proposed bills. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that the bill will trim federal deficits by $49 billion over 10 years.

Sen. Baucus has indicated he will continue to work to forge bipartisan consensus, saying that the bipartisan talks could continue even as the Finance Committee begins its formal bill drafting and voting session next week. With concerns voiced from both sides of the aisle, however, it is not clear whether the bill will receive enough support.

Republicans question the states' role in paying for Medicaid expansion, an individual requirement to purchase coverage, and fees on health insurance companies, clinical laboratories and medical device manufacturers. In addition,  they want to include specific language restricting the use of federal dollars for abortion.

Democrats believe there are excessive cost burdens placed on some families and have concerns about the financing of the plan. Interested parties, from consumers to employers to industry groups, are still digesting what Sen. Baucus's reform bill will mean for them.

Public Plan 

American Opposition Drops if Public Option Dropped: A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, conducted in the days following President Obama's televised address to a joint session of Congress, found that 46 percent of those polled favor proposed changes to the nation's health care system, while 48 percent are opposed. Public opinion appears to shift if the public option is dropped from the reform package, though, with opposition dropping 6 percent. About 55 percent of those polled like the idea of a public option.

Additional Activities

Industry Groups Give Support Following President Obama's Speech: Following the President's presentation of a health care reform blueprint to a joint session of Congress, industry groups expressed support for the proposed reform plans . The Americas Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), endorsed President Obama's calls for change, saying they remain open to major reform for availability, financing and regulation of health care.

Debate Swirls Around Illegal Immigrants and Health Care: House Democrats asked White House officials to clarify statements made by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs last week indicating that President Obama would bar illegal immigrants from directly buying health insurance from a government-created insurance exchange. Democrats believe that the health care proposals were developed to prevent illegal immigrants from getting tax-supported subsidies to buy health insurance, but not to prevent them from using their own money for private insurance.

White House officials clarified that illegal immigrants could use their own money to buy coverage from the few private insurance companies that will be permitted to sell insurance outside the exchange. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) accused the Administration of providing coverage to illegal immigrants with this arrangement.

Looking Ahead

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to begin mark-up on Tuesday, preparing the bill for debate in the full Senate next month. The full committee will meet on Thursday to discuss the proposal, with any amendments due by end of the day Friday.
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