Baucus Releases Detailed Universal Health Care Plan
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Wednesday will release a detailed universal health coverage plan that is "broadly compatible" with the proposal by President-elect Barack Obama, the New York Times reports.
Under the plan, employers of a certain size would be required to offer health insurance for workers or pay into a federal insurance fund. Tax credits would be available for small businesses that provide health coverage and to individuals and families who purchase insurance on the private market. A national health insurance exchange, similar to one proposed by Obama, would be established to allow consumers to compare and purchase policies from a menu of private plans, as well as a new public plan similar to Medicare. Insurers would be prohibited from denying coverage or charging different premiums based pre-existing health conditions. In addition, Baucus' plan would permit people ages 55 to 64 who do not have access to public or group coverage to buy into Medicare, and Medicaid would be available to everyone with incomes below the federal poverty level. SCHIP also would be expanded to cover all uninsured children in families with incomes up to 250% of the poverty level. The plan eventually would require all U.S. residents to obtain health coverage and would provide subsidies for those who could not otherwise afford it (Pear, New York Times, 11/12).
The 104-page plan, titled "Call to Action, Health Reform 2009," would aim to have every U.S. resident covered within 10 years (Connolly, Washington Post, 11/12). According to the report, "We all must realize that the costs of inaction, both in human and financial terms, will eventually be far greater than any initial outlays" (Freking, AP/Miami Herald, 11/12). Baucus suggested that the plan could be funded by reducing waste and fraud, emphasizing prevention and utilizing comparative-effectiveness research. In the short term, he said cutting payments to private insurers participating in the Medicare Advantage program also would provide some funding. According to the Post, "The most controversial idea is Baucus's suggestion to revisit the current tax treatment of employer-sponsored health insurance" (Washington Post, 11/12). The plan does not specify how large or small a company would have to be to fall under the rules, nor does it include a total cost estimate (Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 11/12). For those who do not obtain coverage, a penalty "would be enforced, possibly through the tax system," the plan states (New York Times, 11/12).
Baucus in the plan wrote, "I believe -- very strongly -- that every American has a right to high-quality health care ... and I believe Americans cannot wait any longer" (Wall Street Journal, 11/12). The Times reports that Obama aides "welcomed the Congressional efforts, had encouraged Congress to take the lead and still considered health care a top priority, despite the urgent need to address huge problems afflicting the economy" (New York Times, 11/12).
Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman said, "We're at one of those rare moments that comes every 15 years when you have a chance" to make comprehensive health care changes, adding, "But a lot of things have to break right for it to happen" (Washington Post, 11/12). Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said, "The prospects for meaningful health care reform have never looked better" (New York Times, 11/12).
Baucus plans to hold meetings next week with leaders of both parties in the Finance Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (Wall Street Journal, 11/12).
The Post notes that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) also is working on a health proposal and intends to have legislation drafted by Inauguration Day. A bill sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah.) has support from eight Democratic and nine Republican members. "This shows it is possible to move in a bipartisan way," Wyden said (Washington Post, 11/12).
In other congressional news, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.), in his effort to retain his post against House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), sent a letter to President-elect Obama this week requesting that health care reform be taken up quickly. In the letter, released on Tuesday, Dingell wrote, "I am eager to work with you to make this happen, and I appreciate that your transition team has been in contact with my staff to chart the path forward." The Energy and Commerce panel has jurisdiction over health policy (Soraghan, The Hill, 11/11).
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