- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

Congress returned Monday from its July Fourth break trying to make significant progress on health-care reform before the August recess.

The Democrat-controlled House and Senate have separate plans and are attempting to hold floor votes before the break.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attempted this weekend to reaffirm the House’s commitment to swift action.

“We’re going to pass significant reform before the August recess,” Mr. Hoyer said on the Fox News Sunday show.

The House adjourns July 31, and the Senate leaves Aug. 8.

President Obama has made health care a priority in the early stages of his administration and says reforming the system is essential to the country’s economic recovery and “one of the most important challenges of our time.”

Reigning in health-care costs and providing insurance to roughly 50 million uninsured Americans are key points in the president’s reform plan. He wants to sign a bill by October and has so far allowed Congress to craft legislation.

There are several versions of the legislation right now on Capitol Hill, so lawmakers from both chambers would have to agree upon a compromise version to send to Mr. Obama.

The leading House and Senate versions include a plan for a pool of insurance options — or an exchange — from which people can pick from a public plan or several private ones.

The House Democrats’ version calls for a government-sponsored plan with premiums that would cost roughly 25 percent less than those offered by private insurers.

Other highlights include essential doctor-hospitalization-prescription coverage for roughly 95 percent of Americans but excludes coverage for illegal immigrants.

The plan would be paid largely through cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and new taxes.

Republicans say such a plan would lead to a government takeover of health care, run private insurers out of business and result in tax increase.

“I think we believe, along what Democrats believe, that all Americans should have access to high-quality, affordable health insurance,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, recently said. “We’re not for a plan that puts the government in charge of our health care, decides what doctors ought to be paid or what treatments ought to be prescribed.”

Mr. Obama has said those insured through employers can keep their plan. And other Democrats say the government is already involved in such a plan through Medicare and Medicaid.

The plan in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would cover roughly 97 percent of Americans. Like the House plan, poorer Americans would receive subsidies, and individuals and businesses would face penalties for failing to have and provide insurance, respectively. Small businesses would be exempt.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken is scheduled to be sworn in Tuesday as the chamber’s 60th Democrat, which could play a key role in voting on the legislation.

The Senate Finance Committee has a plan that could achieve bipartisan support because it includes a nonprofit insurer co-op instead of a government-run plan.

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