Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Healthcare reform update

The lead story on tonight is that Sen. Grassley has proposed an amendment to the Baucus health care reform plan that would demolish the FEHB Program by requiring federal elected officials and federal employees to participate in the state based health insurance exchanges beginning in 2013. In fact, the Committee yesterday considered and adopted a modified version of Se. Grassley's amendment yesterday that permits rather than requires feds to use the exchange. The same arrangement is found in the House majority bill HR 3200.

Speaking of H.R. 3200, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held its supplemental markup today. The Committee approved a package of amendments, including a Republican amendment on pricing transparency. The Committee did not approve an amendment that would restrict health plan subrogation efforts, a provision no doubt favored by my colleagues from the plaintiff's trial bar. Among the withdrawn amendments was one offered by Rep. Bart Stupak to open the FEHB Program to private sector employers. The Committee submitted the revisions to the Rules Committee. According to a Bloomberg report, "House Democratic leaders will produce the combined health- care legislation [meaning the versions of H.R. 3200 cleared by three different committees including Energy and Commerce} by next week and circulate it, said Representative John Larson, the Connecticut lawmaker who is chairman of the House Democratic caucus." That strikes me as a tall order.

On the Senate side, the AP reports that the Senate Finance Committee markup session involved sparring between Democrats and Republicans over the Baucus plan's impact on Medicare. Meanwhile, the House has scheduled a vote tomorrow on a bill, H.R. 3631, intended to avoid a large and politically unpopular Medicare Part B premium hike next year. Absent this action, the Part B premium will jump about 20% over the current monthly premium of $96.40. (The premium is higher for wealthier seniors.)

Bloomberg reports that "White House Budget Director Peter Orszag said health-care legislation can be completed in six weeks and may largely be based on a measure being drafted by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee." The Politico reports that the Senate Finance Committee markup is just the beginning. And its reporter is right because, for example, Sen. Harry Reid and his leadership team must combine whatever comes out of that Committee with the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee approved bill into a bill for Senate floor consideration. That's another tall order. And assuming that bill can get through the Senate, there will be a conference committee with the House. There's a lot more fun to come.

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