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This Week in Health Reform - November 16-20, 2009

Nov 20, 2009

This week focused on the unveiling of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) proposed health care reform legislation.

House and Senate Negotiations

Reid Unveils Senate Bill: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled his version of health care reform legislation on Wednesday night after receiving cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). With a price tag of $849 billion over ten years, the bill will reduce the deficit by $127 billion over a decade and cut Medicare spending by $500 billion, while increasing taxes by $500 billion. In addition, the bill will:

While Democrats remain committed to passing the legislation, it is not certain that Reid has the 60 votes needed to bring the measure to the floor for debate. Several moderate democrats, including Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska have expressed concerns over the inclusion of a government-run plan. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), however, expressed in a meeting Monday night with Reid that liberal lawmakers had conceded enough ground on the government-run plan and that he should push forward with the bill.

Members of the Senate will convene on Saturday for a rare weekend session to hold a procedural vote, deciding whether or not to bring the legislation to the Senate floor for debate.

Immigration and Abortion Remain Central to the Debate:  Access to care for illegal immigrants will continue to be contentious as lawmakers work to reconcile the health care legislation passed by the House and pending in the Senate. Under the bill approved by the House, illegal immigrants would not be barred from using their own money in the newly-created insurance exchanges. White House officials and members of the Senate Finance Committee, however, pledged that undocumented workers be barred not only from receiving subsidies but also from buying insurance through federally sponsored exchanges - even with their own money.

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid works to finalize the legislation, he will also need to address the question of federal funding for abortions, an issue that has proved starkly divisive. Because of pressure from the Catholic Church and anti-abortion groups, the House-approved bill restricts the use of taxpayer funds for abortions, a decision that has sparked a heated debate among pro-choice and pro-life advocacy organizations. In contrast, the Senate's proposed bill would allow the use of federal funds for abortion in cases of rape and incest, requiring insurers that cover elective abortions to segregate money from Americans who get government subsidies.

Public Opinion

Polls Continue to Show Deep Divisions:  A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Americans are deeply divided over the current health care proposals and that the majority believes costs will rise. Forty-eight percent say they support the proposed changes to overhaul the health care system, whereas 49 percent are opposed. In addition, 52 percent say an altered system would probably make their own care more expensive, and 56 percent see the overall cost of health care in the country going up as a result of the reform.

Furthermore, a recent Associated Press (AP) poll shows that Americans are split (43 percent opposed; 41 percent support) over the health care plans being discussed in Congress. The AP poll also suggests that the public is becoming more attuned to the details of the proposals, including the cost implications and the public option. And, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday, 53 percent of voters disapprove of President Baracl Obama's handling of health care reform.

However, a new CBS News poll shows that only one in four Americans prefer to have no health care legislation at all, while 51 percent support a bill with a public option.

Other Activities

CMS Report Indicates Costs Would Rise Under House Bill:  According to a report issued by Richard Foster, the chief actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), overall spending on health care would rise as a result of the legislation approved by the House. Specifically, the measure to reduce more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending would sharply reduce benefits for some seniors and may jeopardize access to care for millions of others.

Drug Makers Increase Price, Anticipating Health Reform:  The media has reported that the drug industry has been raising prices at its fastest rate in years, in anticipation of the costs associated with health care reform. These costs include the $80 billion in fees over the next decade that the industry agreed to in order to help pay for coverage of the uninsured.On Wednesday, Democrats in Congress asked for two separate investigations of drug industry pricing.

Economists Endorse Health Care Reform Bill:  Twenty-three high profile economists from universities and think tanks sent a letter to President Obama on Tuesday to support four important elements of health reform legislation critical to its success: deficit neutrality, an excise tax on high-cost insurance plans, an independent Medicare commission, and delivery system reforms.

Looking Ahead

The Senate will convene on Saturday for a procedural vote, deciding whether or not to bring the legislation to the Senate floor for debate. Debate could continue throughout the weekend.
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