- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

House Democrats released a bill Tuesday afternoon that would radically change U.S. health care by creating a public-insurance program and requiring all Americans to have coverage.

The bill, released by three committees that share jurisdiction over health care, also taxes the wealthiest Americans and would require employers to provide insurance or pay a penalty. The insurance industry would face a series of new regulations, including a ban on denying patients with preexisting conditions.

President Obama has made health-care reform his top domestic priority. He wants to slow the rising costs by insuring roughly 46 million Americans without coverage and making the health-care industry more efficient.

“For decades, Washington failed to act as health-care costs continued to rise, crushing businesses and families and placing an unsustainable burden on governments,” the president said. “But today, key committees in the House of Representatives have engaged in unprecedented cooperation to produce a health care reform proposal that will lower costs, provide better care for patients, and ensure fair treatment of consumers by the insurance industry.”

The bill still faces opposition from some Democrats and is expected to have little support from Republicans. A group of fiscally conservative Democrats, known as Blue Dogs, stalled the release of the bill last week over concerns about its cost increasing the national deficit and the need for more protections for small businesses and rural patients.

House leaders released the bill Tuesday to keep on President Obama’s aggressive timetable of passage before the August recess and expressed optimism that it would pass on time.

Mr. Obama met Monday with Rep. Charles B. Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to prod the bill along.

The bill would be paid from cuts to Medicare reimbursements and a surtax on wealthy Americans.

Couples making more than $350,000 would face an additional 1 percent tax. Those making more than $500,000 and $1 million face 2 and 3 percent increases, respectively. The surtax would raise $540 billion over a decade, said Mr. Rangel, New York Democrat.

The nonpartisan Joint committee on taxation found the tax would apply to the top 1.2 percent of U.S. households.

Small businesses, those with payrolls under $250,000, would be exempt from the employer mandate.

The bill will now be debated in the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor committees.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, has said the bill would become “the hallmark issue of this Congress.” He has also told reporters he expects the mark-up process to be completed this week — an ambitious plan.

If the bill passes the House floor, it would have to be merged with a Senate bill that is expected to look drastically different. Two Senate committees are working on separate plans. One of them, in the chamber’s Finance Committee, has not determined which payment method or methods they plan to use.

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