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Baucus’ bill gets reworked

Changes address concerns over cost

Erica Werner Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee was revising his sweeping health care bill Monday to address serious concerns from fellow Democrats and a key Republican about insurance costs, part of his ongoing struggle to deliver on President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority.

The changes – which include possibly halving a penalty for people who don’t comply with a new requirement to purchase insurance – came a day ahead of a committee session beginning today to amend and vote on the bill, which Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., hopes his panel will approve by the end of the week.

“We’ve come a long, long way to satisfying the affordability concerns,” Baucus said Monday evening after meeting with committee Democrats.

“There will still be amendments offered, as there should be. … But my sense is the meeting today went a long way to dealing with a lot of the concerns that senators had,” he said.

Baucus’ 10-year, $856 billion package would extend coverage to about 29 million Americans who lack it now and institute insurance market reforms, such as prohibiting higher premiums for women or the denial of coverage to sick people. It would make almost everyone buy insurance or pay a fee, give subsidies to the poor to help them buy coverage and create new online exchanges where small businesses and people without government or employer-provided insurance could shop for plans and compare prices.

Senators offered a raft of amendments on both those issues, and Baucus was incorporating some of the approaches in revised legislation he’ll unveil at today’s committee meeting. Details weren’t final, but Baucus said he was looking at lowering a $3,800 penalty that his bill would levy on households that don’t comply with a new “individual mandate” to purchase insurance.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a key Finance Committee member, said senators were discussing cutting that penalty in half, to $1,900. The $950 penalty for individuals who don’t buy coverage, however, would not be changed.

Also under discussion, according to Conrad, was lowering the maximum amount of income people could pay in premiums before becoming eligible for subsidies. It’s now 13 percent. Senators were also looking at adjusting the new insurance excise tax – now set to hit plans valued at $21,000 for a family and $8,000 for an individual – so that it’s limited to even more expensive plans over time, Conrad said.

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