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Anthem: This Week in Health Reform - September 7-11, 2009

Sep 14, 2009

Lawmakers returned to Washington this week after a heated August recess to continue to negotiate health care reform. Americans remain sharply divided on legislation: In a Gallup Poll released Tuesday, 39% of those polled say they would direct their member of Congress to vote against a health care reform bill this fall, while 37% want their member to vote in favor of a health care reform bill.

Joint Session

President Barack Obama Holds Joint Session on Health Care Reform: On Wednesday,in a televised primetime speech before a joint session of Congress, President Obama sought to build momentum for the health care overhaul by  outlining a specific blueprint of what he intends reform legislation to deliver. He made the case for a government-run insurance option, citing it as the best way to foster greater competition in the insurance market. However, he also indicated that a public option is a means to an end and encouraged consideration of other options. He said that his plan would cost around $900 billion over 10 years, but would be deficit neutral.

Public Plan

House Majority Leader Would Support Reform Legislation Without Public Option: On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that he would support health reform legislation without a public option. "If the public option weren't in there, I could still support a bill, because I think there's a lot in there that's good," he said. Just hours after Rep. Hoyer's comment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) insisted that a public option is essential to reform legislation. In addition, Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), a Blue Dog congressman, said Tuesday that he could no longer back the government-insurance option.

Senate Negotiations

Senate Finance Committee Chair Unveils Compromise Plan: The "Gang of Six," a subset of the Senate Finance Committee, met Tuesday to discuss a new proposal from Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) that reflects the group's negotiations. The plan calls for non-profit cooperatives and an individual mandate, but does not contain an employer mandate. A new tax on insurance companies would raise about $6 billion a year to help pay for health reform. The plan would also impose annual fees of $4 billion on medical device manufacturers, $2.3 billion on pharmaceutical manufacturers and $750 million on clinical laboratories. On Wednesday, Sen. Baucus indicated that he plans to introduce a bill next week, with or without Republican support.

Additional Activities

President Obama Meets with Leading Democrats: In a private meeting Tuesday, President Obama met with Democratic Congressional leaders to discuss their health care reform strategy. Coming out of the meeting, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) commented that they were re-energized and ready to press forward with reform legislation. Speaker Pelosi reiterated that the House would not pass legislation without a public option.

Iowa Senator Will Replace Late HELP Committee Chairman: On Wednesday, a Democrat aide announced that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) will replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, one of two Senate panels focused on health reform. A Senate aide confirmed Tuesday that Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) will not take on the role, and will continue to instead lead the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Medical Association Endorses Obama-style Health Care Reform: In an open letter to President Obama and members of Congress, the American Medical Association gave its support to presidential health care reform efforts, stating, "On behalf of America's physicians and their patients, we strongly urge you to reach agreement this year on health system reforms." The letter, signed by AMA President J. James Rohback, M.D, was posted on the AMA website just before Wednesday's presidential address to serve as "a shot in the arm" for President Obama as he attempts to salvage health care reform.

Looking Ahead

Sen. Baucus indicated that he plans to "mark up" a bill the week of September 21.
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