- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

Senators are leaving town this weekend without a health care reform plan but with promises to work on their homework over the August recess.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said Thursday that the group of six on the committee trying to draft a bipartisan plan is scheduled to meet over videoconferencing during August.

One of the major issues the committee members plan to discuss is the impact of Medicaid expansion to the states. Members discussed the changes with a group of eight of the nation’s governors in one of their final meetings Thursday.

Under consideration is an expansion of Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent of the federal poverty rate, which would put new financial burdens on the federal and state governments. A family of four is considered to be in poverty if their annual income is less than $22,050, but under the proposal, a family of four making up to $29,400 would be eligible for Medicaid. The poverty rate is readjusted each year.

“We’re sensitive to their concerns, we want to do this right,” Mr. Baucus said. “How we handle Medicaid and how to handle federal payments to states on Medicaid especially for the new enrollees - those from 100 to 133 percent of poverty, we want to do the best we can.”

Mr. Baucus declined to name the governors with whom he spoke.

The group of six also met with President Obama at the White House on Thursday for a status update, Mr. Baucus said.

Mr. Obama encouraged the group to continue negotiations over the August recess and issued no policy directives, said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, who attended the meeting.

“There are number of issues and obstacles and many challenges,” she said. “He appreciated, I think, the attempt at crafting a bipartisan package.”

Later, White House adviser David Axelrod met with Democrats on the Hill to discuss how to communicate with the public at August town-hall meetings. House members already have faced partisan hecklers at their town halls.

Early in the day Mr. Baucus said the group had locked down the financing portion of the bill, which was one of the more contentious portions of the legislation. But late in the day, he backed off that statement, saying the group feels good about where they are but “we’re going to have to come back and look at everything.”

The group is working on a plan that likely will include the creation of an insurance cooperative instead of a public insurance program, and could impose taxes on insurance companies that offer the most elite plans. The bill is expected to come in at $900 billion over 10 years and reduce the federal deficit in the last year.

Other members of the Senate finance group are Sens. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat; Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat; Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican.

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