In a letter to President Obama Monday, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) confirmed their respective panels' plans to mark up separate health care overhaul bills in June, CQ HealthBeat reports (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 4/20).
The letter stated, "Our intention is for the legislation to be very similar, and to reflect a shared approach to reform, so that the measures that our two committees report can be quickly merged into a single bill for consideration on the Senate floor" (CongressDaily, 4/20).
The senators wrote, "We have a moral duty to ensure that every American can get quality health care," adding, "We must act to contain the growth of health care costs to ensure our economic stability; to help American businesses deal with the health care challenge; and to make sure that we are getting our money's worth" (CQ HealthBeat, 4/20).
On Tuesday, Baucus will hold the first of three roundtable discussions that will focus on issues such as changing health care payment systems, increasing the role of primary and preventive care, and better managing chronic diseases (Ochs, Long Island Newsday, 4/21).
The first meeting will cover ways to improve health care delivery (Budoff Brown, Politico, 4/21).
House leaders sent a letter to Obama last week stating their intention to have a single House overhaul bill ready for a vote by August (Long Island Newsday, 4/21).
Liberal interest groups and lawmakers are expressing concerns that Obama has shown willingness to compromise on the issue of creating a public health insurance option as part of a potential health care overhaul, the Washington Post reports.
On Monday, Obama spokesperson Linda Douglass said, "The administration is open to all ideas for achieving" the president's health care goals.
Len Nichols, health policy director at the New America Foundation, said, "That's what got the left nervous. I took that as a signal to" Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that Obama might offer a compromise regarding a public plan.
Nichols added, "It was the first time the president indicated he could live without" a public option.
Last week, White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle said that there "are many different breeds of public plans that could be part of this."
According to the Post, discussions of such a compromise "shine a light on the intraparty fissures that may prove more problematic than any partisan brawl" (Connolly, Washington Post, 4/21).
Employer Tax Exemption
Discussions of changing the tax exemption for employer-sponsored health coverage is an "emerging flashpoint" in the debate over how to pay for a proposed health care overhaul, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Possible changes include:
- Placing a dollar limit on health benefits that can be excluded from taxable income;
- Eliminating the exemption for people above a certain income limit; and
- Allowing tax-exempt benefits to the lowest-income U.S. residents but taxing benefits on a sliding scale based on income.
Baucus has expressed support for taxing only those over a certain income. Another possibility would be to tax benefits depending on where the worker lives, as health care costs vary widely across states.
AFL-CIO health care lobbyist JoAnn Volk said, "If you had to choose, an income threshold would be better," but "anything that might undermine the place where most workers get coverage is a concern."
However, Republicans and conservative groups believe this method would in effect be placing a new tax on higher-income individuals.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former senior policy adviser for the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Congressional Budget Office director, said, "It just seems completely wrongheaded from a tax policy point of view, and it doesn't accomplish anything from a health policy point of view."
Republicans also say placing a cap on the exemption could help drive health costs down.
Nichols said the scope and depth of any tax changes will be determined by how much funding is needed for an overhaul. He said, "The reality is, we don't have enough money to pay for health reform without changes to the tax expenditure. How much will depend on what we can generate from other sources, such as making the delivery system more efficient" (Vaughan, Wall Street Journal, 4/21).
On Tuesday, NPR's "Morning Edition" reported on a health care reform proposal developed jointly by Families USA and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. The segment includes comments from Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack and PhRMA President and CEO Billy Tauzin (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 4/21).