News on the Hill - 2009 (June)

Angela Godby, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations for the University of Texas System.
Healthcare Reform Debate Heats Up In Washington
This summer is even hotter than usual in Washington as Congress and the Administration take on the enormous task of healthcare reform. During last year's campaign, President Obama put healthcare reform high on his priority list. Congressional leaders intend to move a bill this summer but hopes are fading on that becoming a reality. The debate is clearly a contentious one and one fraught with procedural hurdles. The Senate has two committees developing separate bills. The Senate plans to combine those bills during the debate on the Senate floor. The House of Representatives has three relevant committees drafting legislation. Those committees have produced a single piece of legislation. Once bills are passed by the House and the Senate, then the real work begins as members work to produce a final product to send to the President. At the heart of the discussion is the debate over developing a so-called "public plan" - one in which the government would develop a government-run insurance option to compete with private plans. Opponents fear that this option would lead to a completely government-run health system in the United States. Proponents believe the public plan is key to insuring more Americans. Various drafts from both the House and the Senate would also increase Medicaid coverage. In addition, the bills address the problem of health workforce shortages by providing incentives to train health professionals like primary care physicians. Finally, most proposals include provisions to prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Perhaps the biggest hot button issue is how much each proposal will cost and how it will be paid for. An early estimate gave the Senate Finance Committee proposal a price tage of $1.6 trillion. Republicans counter that the actual cost of the Democrats' plan would top $3.5 trillion. Democrats are considering paying for the plans by taxing employer health insurance benefits and altering Medicare payments to doctors and hospitals. Republicans would finance a plan by providing tax cuts and incentives. It is hard to say what the final health reform package will look like, but it is definitely time to pull out your fans and brace for the heat.
News on the Hill keeps members current with the legislation in Washington, DC. This column is written by Angela Godby, affected with lamellar/CIE.

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