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This Week in Health Reform - December 7 - 11, 2009

Dec 14, 2009

This week Senate lawmakers continued to debate numerous proposed amendments to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) health care reform bill.

An updated analysis by Anthem Blue Cross' parent company shows that, with the proposed health care reform legislation, across- the-board premiums will increase significantly for younger and healthier people who purchase insurance on the individual market or through small employer groups.

Anthem continues to encourage you, and other like-minded people, to engage your Senators during this debate through the Health Action Network.

Senate Negotiations

Senate Continues Debate on Health Care Reform Bill: As Senate lawmakers continued to debate through the weekend and voted on proposed amendments, President Barack Obama encouraged this effort by visiting Capital Hill on Sunday and urging lawmakers to put aside their differences and pass the historic legislation. While the President did not mention abortion or the government-run option specifically, those issues remain particularly divisive and at the center of debate on the Senate floor:

The agreement would allow individuals to buy into Medicare starting at age 55, and insurance companies would face new regulations, including a requirement that they spend at least 90 cents of every dollar collected in premiums on medical services for customers.

In response to the agreement, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the American Federation of Hospitals - along with other health care companies, including insurers and drug makers - expressed concerns over the proposed Medicare expansion. Some also voiced concerns that the agreement simply represents another form of a public option. Those in opposition cite potential cost increases, low Medicare reimbursements and greater government control over parts of the health care industry. Hospital representatives said an expansion of Medicare would violate a deal they reached with the White House this year to give up $155 billion in Medicare payments over the next decade. Furthermore, The National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business association, released a statement opposing the legislation as an inadequate response to rising costs.

Currently Sen. Reid has only released a few specific details about the agreement, and lawmakers are hesitant to endorse the plan until it is better understood.  Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has indicated that the inclusion of a public option trigger may be a possible deal breaker. Sen. Reid presented this new agreement to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to be analyzed and is currently waiting for the CBO costs estimates.
In addition, on Wednesday Senate lawmakers debated an amendment offered by Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND) that would allow for the importation of prescription drugs from other countries. Should it pass, the measure could threaten the pharmaceutical industry's support for President Obama's health care reform. The pharmaceutical industry strongly opposes allowing prescription drug imports, indicating that the risk for counterfeit drugs would increase. While the amendment was supposed to come to a vote on Wednesday, an agreement was not reached and debate continued on Thursday.

Other Activities

Federal Insurers Warn of Higher Premiums: The Association of Federal Health Organizations , which includes federal employee-sponsored health insurance companies and Associate Member Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, is starting to make waves on Capitol Hill with information released in a November 25 report to the Office of Management and Budget. The report indicates that health insurance premiums could go up and benefits could be hurt due to impending fees on the insurance industry and the excise tax on premiums above a certain amount.

Drug Makers May See Increased Fees: Media reports indicate that the bill emerging from the Senate may include fees on the pharmaceutical industry that are greater than the $80 billion originally discussed in June. Given that the House bill would cost drug makers about $140 billion, the eventual House-Senate bill is likely to include fees exceeding $80 billion.

Public Opinion

Americans Oppose Reform Plan: As special interest groups express concern over the latest Senate proposal, polls continue to show that Americans are increasingly worried about the impact of reform. The most recent Quinnipiac University Poll indicates that Americans disapprove (52-38 percent) of the health care reform proposal under consideration in Congress.  Furthermore, a Bloomberg National Poll indicates that 62 percent of Americans say they are mostly pessimistic that they would benefit from the bill.

Looking Ahead

Senate lawmakers will continue working around the clock and weekends to debate and vote on the proposed amendments. Sen. Reid is still pushing to have a final Senate reform package put together by Christmas.

Register now with the Health Action Network and join others in Anthem's industry who want their opinion heard by lawmakers.

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