With a 14-9 vote, the Baucus version of a healthcare bill passed out of the Senate finance committee today. The sole Republican voting for the bill was Senator Olympia Snowe (now there’s a shocker). It was met with immediate, sharp criticism.
A top labor lobbyist says about 30 unions will run a full-page ad in newspapers Wednesday announcing their opposition to the Senate Finance Committee’s health overhaul bill. The ad says that unless the bill brought to the Senate floor makes substantial progress to address the concerns of working men and women, unions will oppose it. They are unhappy that the legislation lacks a publicly run insurance plan and would tax insurers that provide expensive coverage.
In an unusual alliance reflecting the shared interest of some unions and businesses on the issue, the United States Chamber of Commerce is joining the A.F.L.-C.I.O. in opposition to this bill. James P. Gelfand, senior manager of health policy at the Chamber of Commerce, said that if the tax is imposed, “employers will have to reduce wages or benefits or increase cost-sharing.” And, he said, “employees will blame employers, not the government.”
An article from The Hill says that according to the CBO, the bill would require a total of about $900 billion in new federal spending that would be offset with Medicare and Medicaid spending cuts and new tax revenue. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would combine to cover 14 million more people. To offset these new expenditures, the Finance Committee bill would cut $401 billion in spending, mostly in Medicare, and $110 billion in other spending reductions. Taxes on high-cost insurance plans and on healthcare companies would generate $196 billion, according to the CBO.
Another source of “revenue” is the $4 billion (that’s Billion with a B) tax the Baucus bill imposes on manufacturers of medical devices. Minnesota’s two Democrat Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, on Tuesday said they oppose a tax on medical device companies. In a letter to Sen. Max Baucus, the Minnesota Democrats claimed the proposed $4 billion tax “will seriously threaten thousands of American jobs and deter innovation” in the heavily research-focused device industry. Baucus’ proposal calls for makers of pacemakers, artificial knees, heart stents and valves and other medical devices to pay that $4 billion tax beginning next year.
Don’t think those manufacturers – and the insurance companies – won’t pass on their increased costs, either. A report released Monday by America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, said the Finance bill would impose stiff costs on consumers. Among other things, the report said a family health-insurance policy that costs $12,300 today would increase to $25,900 on average by 2019 under the bill, more than under current law. In addition, since the legislation would ban insurance companies from denying coverage on account of poor health, many people will wait to sign up until they get sick – and that will drive up costs for everybody else. Insurers are now raising possibilities such as higher premiums for people who postpone getting coverage, or waiting periods for those who ignore a proposed government requirement to get insurance and later have a change of heart.
Scariest of all, the bill that “passed” – bad as it is – is not the bill that will become law. Senator Mitch McConnell released a statement that read:
“The fact is, this proposal will never come before the Senate. But what we do know is that the bill written behind closed doors here in the Capitol will be another 1,000-page, trillion-dollar Washington takeover. We know it will slash a half-trillion dollars from seniors’ Medicare, add new taxes and raise premiums. That’s not reform.”
According to the Wall Street Journal,
Senate Democratic leaders must now merge the Finance bill with a more liberal measure approved by the Senate health committee. Among the issues on the table: whether the legislation should include a government-run health plan. As it stands, the Finance bill doesn’t include one. Instead, the measure would create a network of nonprofit health cooperatives to compete with private insurers.
In the House, Democratic leaders must nail down details of legislation, bridging differences between the party’s liberals and moderates on issues including whether to create a government health plan. A bill isn’t expected on the House floor until late October. Once both the House and Senate act, a final bill must be forged and pushed through both chambers again.