With Congress back in session today, the party’s over in terms of bipartisan planning, and the POTUS
will address a semi-reluctant joint session of Congress Wednesday evening to
lay out what the “at minimum” health reform agenda needs to be.
Gang of Two
The Senate Finance Committee is hurrying to get their
proposed bill out before the big speech Wednesday. Chairman Baucus has
apparently lost the support of the Gang of Six, except for Senator Snowe (R-ME),
who’s still talking with him. He’s going to put the bill out anyway. He has
leaked some details of his proposal, including that it will provide access for
all Americans, and cost about $900 billion over 10 years.
individuals earning less than 133% of the federal poverty level ($29,000 for a
family of four) will be covered in the expanded Medicaid program at government
expense; those who earn more than 133% of the FPL but less than 300% ($66,000
for a family of four) will get subsidies on a sliding scale to help buy private
coverage through new insurance exchanges. Those above 300% of FPL must purchase
it themselves through the exchanges, or be covered through their employer, or
face some kind of tax penalty. Employers will be encouraged to cover all their
employees, but not forced to do so. However, if they don’t, they must pay for
part of the coverage costs by contributing into state insurance exchanges that
will help uninsured persons get affordable coverage, have a choice of plans,
and have portability of coverage if they change jobs or move within the state.
He will not include a “public option” in the exchanges, but will promote insurance
reform and publicly owned insurance coops (such as Group Health of Washington
State, which is organized and owned by its beneficiaries). He has trimmed back
the mandated minimum benefits to try to keep costs down and premiums more
affordable (and interestingly, Snowe apparently thinks he has cut benefits back
too far). He raises some of the funding through a new tax on insurers
who offer coverage that is over the average costs of family coverage
(about $13,000 per year for a family of four). This is a clever switch from
taxing people with coverage over that amount, as proposed by others. I don’t
know if he will have ‘MedPAC’ on steroids “federal reserve’ body to oversee
health policy decisions for Congress (with less politics and more expertise).
That’s all I know.
It’s somewhat strange to me that how we’re going to pay for
reform isn’t the headline issue being debated: Instead, the controversy is all
about the public option, the base closure commission idea (MedPAC on steroids),
death panels, whether federal money can be spent on abortion, and other matters.
It does seem like most of Congress and most Americans are still prepared to support
expanding access to all Americans, to propose needed insurance reforms, and to
figure out a way to put the brakes on rising costs to ensure that health care
and health care spending remain affordable. (We would add with respect to the
latter goal that improving quality is the proven means of reducing the cost curve,
and that there is no effective way of doing that in the bills proposed thus
far. So, it will be interesting to see if Mr. Baucus includes any of the pilot
ideas we have proposed to incentivize and improve quality.)
There were quite a few chuckles at the European Society of
Cardiology about the incessant bashing by some members of Congress of the
National Health Service (NHS) and other allegedly “lefty strategies supposedly diminishing
the lives of those socialistic Europeans.” Most European cardiologists I talked
with at ESC felt this is almost humorous, even though they recognize that
cardiologists and physicians in this country in general are the most highly
compensated on the planet, and that our hospitals often have much more
technology and money to spend than theirs. The difference in outcomes are not
great, and clearly Europe is ahead of us in
some areas. And, despite problems in every country, Europeans have a lot of
pride in the progress their nations are making as they should. Incidentally, I was interested recently to see
income comparisons between compensation of American versus European physicians based
on ‘purchasing power.’ When that comparison is made, American physicians aren’t
doing much better than many of their European counterparts.
So what happens now that the Congress is back? The House will start entertaining amendments
to HR 3200, similar amendment discussions are ongoing with respect to the
Senate HELP bill, and when this week the Senate Finance is announced, the
Senate has to put its two bills together into one proposal, which will be no
easy task. Once that happens, the House and the Senate will appoint a
conference committee to take the amended House proposal and the amended and
combined Senate proposal and try to craft a unified proposal to be passed by
both the House and the Senate, and that the President will be willing to sign.
That has to happen between now and the New Year.
So, despite Congress still being out -- this has been quite a month! This month of September and the two months following are likely to be one
hell of a rollercoaster ride. More on the Baucus bill below.
*** Image from Flickr (peve.de). ***