Finance Committee Likely to Tackle Public Insurance Option This Week

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , September 28, 2009

Despite a less than lightning-speed start this past week, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) said he was confident after four days of hearings that the committee was making some progress on the healthcare reform bill.

"We have debated, we have questioned, we have prodded at times, and we have discussed—and discussed. Most important, we continue to move forward."

Overall, "this was a good week. It was a productive week. And next week, our work will continue . . . we will continue to make this a better bill," added Baucus. However, many of the important facets of the legislation addressed in the 564 amendments proposed by committee members—ranging from creation of an independent Medicare commission to creation of insurance cooperatives—received little, if any, discussion.

Oftentimes, Democrats appeared to show signs of frustration with many of the Republican amendments, saying they appeared to slow the markup process. Baucus often tried to shorten debate on these Republican amendments—many of which addressed cuts in Medicare Advantage benefits.

Affordability also appeared to be a subject of concern—particularly whether those with moderate incomes could afford to purchase health insurance even with the subsidies proposed under the legislation.

Sen. Charles Grassley (D-IA), the Finance Committee's senior Republican, criticized the penalty of $1,500 for failure to obtain insurance that could be incurred by families with incomes as small as $25,000 annually. “It’s a pretty heavy burden for low income families,” he said.

This week might provide some higher octane debate when Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) are expected to introduce legislation that incorporates a public health insurance option into the bill. Both senators have separate amendment options, so it is not clear if one combined or two separate amendments will be offered.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at

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