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Senate Finance Committee Markup of Health Care

Editor’s note: Here is what Bloomberg is reporting will happen with the mark up of the Senate Finance Committee Bill.

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Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus <http://search.bloomberg.com/search?q=Max+Baucus&site=wnews&client=wnews&proxystylesheet=wnews&output=xml_no_dtd&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&filter=p&getfields=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1>  will seek to make insurance more affordable for low- income Americans and may scale back a tax on high-end health plans, according to a person familiar with negotiations over his health-care proposal.

Baucus, seeking to address criticism of his plan from lawmakers in both parties, will expand subsidies for people trying to buy insurance through an online exchange, said the person, who asked not to be identified. He’s also considering cutting back an excise tax on so-called Cadillac plans so fewer people would be affected, an issue important to labor unions.

He’s discussing other amendments today with fellow Democrats, including one to lower penalties for those who fail to buy insurance.

Democrats in Congress are struggling to meet President Barack Obama’s <http://search.bloomberg.com/search?q=Barack+Obama%3Fs&site=wnews&client=wnews&proxystylesheet=wnews&output=xml_no_dtd&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&filter=p&getfields=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1>  call for legislation that curbs the rising cost of health care and expands coverage to most of the 46 million Americans who lack health insurance.

The finance panel is drafting the legislation this week, and the modifications present a challenge to Baucus in his bid to get a measure before the Senate that can get the 60 votes needed to block Republican delaying tactics. Democrats control 59 votes in the chamber, making some bipartisan support necessary.

Adding to Cost

Members of the committee, split between 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans, have filed 564 amendments for consideration. The changes would add to the cost of the proposal, which Baucus last week placed at $856 billion.

The Montana Democrat will build in other cost cuts to make way for the changes, the person said.

Baucus’s legislation, which he unveiled last week, would require almost all Americans to have insurance or pay a penalty. It would also expand Medicaid, as well as provide subsidies to help millions of people get coverage.

The plan utilizes nonprofit cooperatives rather than a government program to compete against Aetna Inc. <http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/quote?ticker=AET%3AUS>  and other insurers, and drops a mandate that all employers provide health care to workers. Both provisions are designed to make the measure more attractive to Republicans, although no Republican in the chamber has yet signed on.

Medicare Savings

To pay for his plan, Baucus seeks savings in programs such as Medicare, the federal insurance plan for the elderly. He also proposed a levy on the costliest health plans and about $13 billion in fees on insurers, medical-device manufacturers, drugmakers and clinical laboratories.

Most of the toughest criticism of his proposal has been in the area of affordability. Under his original proposal, beginning in 2013, tax credits would be available on a sliding scale to individuals and families between 134 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level, based on the percentage of income spent on health premiums. The scale ranges from 3 percent to 13 percent of income.

Additionally, those at between 300 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level can get a tax credit to help pay for their insurance once they’ve spent 13 percent of their income on health insurance. Some senators, including Democrat Ron Wyden <http://search.bloomberg.com/search?q=Ron+Wyden&site=wnews&client=wnews&proxystylesheet=wnews&output=xml_no_dtd&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&filter=p&getfields=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1>  of Oregon, say 13 percent is too high.

The penalties for individuals who fail to get insurance also have come under fire. Baucus proposed last week imposing penalties of $750 per person and $1,500 per family for those between 100 percent and 300 percent of the poverty level, and $950 for individuals and $3,800 for families for those at higher income levels.

As the panel weighs in, other key changes lawmakers want to make include a plan by Senator Olympia Snowe <http://search.bloomberg.com/search?q=Olympia+Snowe&site=wnews&client=wnews&proxystylesheet=wnews&output=xml_no_dtd&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&filter=p&getfields=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> , a Maine Republican, to create a nonprofit government entity to provide insurance if private coverage proved too expensive for some people. Her amendment would establish the program in any state unless coverage is deemed affordable to at least 95 percent of the residents.

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September 21, 2009 - Posted by | Federal Government, healthcare | ,

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