October 29, 2009 in Nation/World

Pelosi set to unveil health bill

House’s version includes new requirements, fines
Erica Werner Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – House Democrats reached agreement Wednesday on key elements of a health care bill that would vastly alter America’s medical landscape, requiring virtually universal sign-ups and establishing a new government-run insurance option for millions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi planned a formal announcement today in front of the Capitol. Lawmakers said the legislation could be up for a vote on the House floor next week.

The rollout will cap months of arduous negotiations to bridge differences between liberal and moderate Democrats and blend health care overhaul bills passed by three separate committees over the summer. The developments in the House came as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tried to round up support among moderate Democrats for his bill, which includes a modified government insurance option that states could opt out of.

The final product in the House, reflecting many of President Barack Obama’s priorities, includes new requirements for employers to offer insurance to their workers or face penalties, fines on Americans who don’t purchase coverage and subsidies to help lower-income people do so. Insurance companies would face new prohibitions against charging much more to older people or denying coverage to people with health conditions.

Pelosi has also said the bill would strip the health insurance industry of a long-standing exemption from antitrust laws covering market allocation, price fixing and bid rigging.

The price tag, topping $1 trillion over 10 years, would be paid for by taxing high-income people and cutting some $500 billion in payments to Medicare providers. The legislation would extend health coverage to around 95 percent of Americans.

Republicans criticized the bill even before it was unveiled.

“Americans’ health care is too important to risk on one gigantic bill that was negotiated behind closed doors,” said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich. “The Medicare cuts will hurt seniors, the tax increases will kill jobs and the government takeover of health care will increase premium costs.”

One change expected to be revealed today is that some of the provisions of the bill, which were set to take effect mostly in 2013, have been moved up so Americans would see the benefits of the legislation more quickly, according to Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami.

“I’m pretty confident that we’ve got the right pieces in place,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, one of the three panels involved in writing the bill. “We can quibble over parts of it, but the fact is when you’re taking a 60-year-old system that grew up in a rather haphazard fashion and you’re trying to bring some coherence to it, these are sort of the things you have to do at the beginning of that process.”

Plenty of work remains before a bill could land on Obama’s desk – and there’s still no guarantee that Congress can complete the legislation before year’s end, as the president wants.

House leaders hope to finish the bill before Veterans Day, Nov. 11. The Senate is aiming to start debate sometime in the next several weeks.

Bills passed by the House and Senate would have to be merged before a final product could be sent to Obama, and there are a number of differences between the two chambers that would have to be reconciled. Among them are the different approaches to the public plan. The House does not include the opt-out provision for states, and it has more stringent requirements for employers. The Senate would use a tax on high-value insurance plans to pay for the bill, an approach that the House version doesn’t have.

In the end, Pelosi, D-Calif., and other House leaders were unable to round up the necessary votes for their preferred version of the government insurance plan – one that would base payment rates to providers on rates paid by Medicare. Instead, the Health and Human Services secretary would negotiate rates with providers, the approach preferred by moderates and the one that will be featured in the Senate’s version.

© Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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