House Panel Works to Finish Marked Up Version of Reform Bill

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , July 31, 2009

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will again hold hearings on Friday—after meeting throughout Thursday—with the goal of completing the markup of the Tri-Committee healthcare reform bill before the House's recess officially begins on today. But on the House side of the Hill, reform has been—and is likely to be throughout August—anything but quiet.

The House leadership has agreed to hold off a full-floor vote on the bill (H.R. 3200) until at least the legislators return in September, but new challenges are arising over the bill.

While the Energy and Commerce hearings were delayed for more than a week while discussions proceeded with members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats (which has seven members on the committee), new voices rose up Wednesday from the another sizable group in the House that led to the cancellation of a mark-up session.

Members of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus, along with members of the Congressional TriCaucus—comprised of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus—met in front of the Capitol on Thursday to warn against any further "weakening" of sections of the bill.

"We want a plan with a meaningful public option," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), who is co chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "When leaders of the House meet in August to consider the three bills and produce a final one, we expect that it will retain a robust public option. If it doesn't, we will vote against it."

Nearly half of the 120 members of the groups signed a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Thursday that called for a public plan that "must be available immediately." In addition, they are requesting that the public plan must receive "at least the same consumer subsidies as private plans."

On the other side of the aisle, the GOP has released its own $700 billion healthcare reform measure that calls for tax credits to help people buy insurance. However, unlike Democratic proposals, the measure does not call for individual or employer mandates to obtain coverage.

The Republican plan was drafted by Rep. Tom Price (R GA), a physician, who President Obama invited to the White House to further discuss the measure.

Unlike Democratic proposals, it does not call for creating a federally regulated insurance exchange. Instead, it permits individuals to shop for health insurance across state lines and "allows for patients to control their own healthcare coverage" by allowing for a defined contribution in employer sponsored plans.

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

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