Baucus Floats Compromise Health Reform Bill

The proposal began to circulate among the senators over the weekend and details of it began to emerge Monday. It includes several provisions that have been part of the discussions among the six senators on the committee’s bipartisan negotiating team. The bill does not include a government-run public insurance plan option, instead setting up a system of private non-profit health insurance cooperatives. It would also tax some of the most expensive, so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans.

Baucus’ compromise proposal would cost about $900 billion over 10 years — about $100 billion less than the other bills Congress is now considering. About $180 billion of that cost would be covered by the tax on “Cadillac” plans, about another $400 billion would come from Medicare savings.

Under the proposal, Medicaid would be expanded to cover all individuals who make less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level. It would provide tax credits to help other lower- and middle-income individuals and families buy private insurance, and would set up a new marketplace — a health insurance exchange — to help them find that coverage. Some of the options in those exchanges would be private, nonprofit health insurance cooperatives.

The proposal would also expand Medicare prescription drug coverage for seniors.

According to the Washington Post, a summary of the proposal said that it ” dramatically increases the focus on and coverage of prevention and wellness programs” and “begins the shift of health care delivery to the quality of care provided, not the quantity of services rendered, which will result in higher quality patient care.”

The “Gang of Six” negotiators — Democrats Baucus, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, and Republicans Olympia Snowe of Maine, Charles Grassley of Iowa and Mike Enzi of Wyoming — will reconvene Tuesday to try to hammer out a final bill.

The Senate Finance Committee is the only congressional committee still working on producing bipartisan health care reform legislation. One other Senate committee and three House committees have passed legislation, but all without any Republican support.

Senate Democratic leaders have given the committee a deadline of Sept. 15 to hammer out a final bill. If it doesn’t, they’ll begin to move forward other legislation that they hope can attract more Democratic support.

Democratic leaders are wary that two of the three Republican negotiators — Grassley and Enzi — may walk away from the negotiations under pressure from Republican leadership.

Meanwhile, President Obama plans to speak Wednesday to a joint session of Congress, and he is expected to lay out some specific details of his reform plan.

“Obviously we’d be pleased if the Finance Committee, throughout the course of the next few days, came up with a proposal that can get through their committee, hopefully with bipartisan support,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.

Editor’s Note: This story was corrected to reflect that Medicaid, not Medicare, would be expanded to cover all individuals who make less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level under the Baucus proposal.

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