Washington Report

Updates from Capitol Hill

Finance Committee Kills Public Option

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Public options in the healthcare bill currently in markup in the Senate Finance Committee suffered twin defeats Sept. 29 when amendments offered by Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) were rejected by 15 to 8 and 13 to 10. Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.), who crafted the Finance Committee’s bill and did not include a public option, voted against both amendments.

Under the Rockefeller amendment, doctors and hospitals participating in the public option would be paid Medicare payment rates for the first two years. Practitioners participating in both programs would receive a 5% bonus.

The Congressional Budget Office said the amendment would cut $50 billion from the bill’s cost over 10 years. But some lawmakers say Medicare rates are too low to keep doctors and hospitals in business. Five Democrats voted against it.
Schumer’s plan called for negotiated rates and would cost more. Three Democrats voted nay.

Baucus just wants a bill that can win 60 votes.

On the House side, lawmakers are weighing options similar to the two senators’ amendments, and will move forward with the one that has the greatest support.

“A lot of members feel that if that’s the discussion, we’ve already won,” said Rep. Robert Scott (D-Va.). But, he adds, some argue tax increases will be needed to cover the cost difference between negotiated rates and Medicare plus five, while others are concerned that the latter would pay too little to attract individuals to healthcare professions and hurt hospitals.

“There are a lot of things to consider, some of which can probably be worked out separately, but we’re just seeing where people are,” said Scott.

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