- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2009

Details of how House Democrats might tackle health care reform emerged from Capitol Hill on Thursday, as a draft outline leaked out showing a plan that would require Americans to carry health care coverage and provide federal aid to help consumers afford it.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee plan also would mandate employers to provide insurance coverage to employees or pay a government penalty in the form of a percentage of each employee’s pay, according to a report obtained by the Associated Press.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi promised that a health care reform bill, which is expected to come out of the Energy and Commerce Committee, would pass the House floor by July 31.

The Senate Finance Committee ended a day-long meeting without coming close to any compromises, but said they will still have legislation ready for discussion in June.

“There are some philosophical differences,” said Charles E. Grassley, the ranking Republican from Iowa.

“Both sides are looking at options,” said committee chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, trying to downplay differences.

Mr. Baucus said the group still plans to have a bill written by June. “It’s only May,” he said.

President Obama is shaping the health care plan from a distance, issuing three requirements but leaving the details up to Congress. His wants legislation that cuts health care costs, allows satisfied consumers to stick with their current plan, and provides coverage to all Americans.

That leaves Congress to decide if there will be an insurance requirement and how it’s going to cover the uninsured population of nearly 50 million Americans.

But the White House is trying to unify Democrats. Senior adviser David Axelrod met with Senate Democrats Wednesday to offer “constructive ways to message and pass health care reform,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Mr. Reid added that Senate Democrats “learned a lot from” former President Clinton’s failed attempts in 1993 at health care reform.

Most Democrats are in favor of a government-run, or “public option,” insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. Proposed ideas include setting up a program similar to Medicare, or setting up a government-run program administered at the federal or local levels.

But for now, Democratic leadership in both houses is reluctant to exclude anything, even a controversial proposal to tax employer-provided plans.

“Everything is on the table. Everything is on the table,” Mr. Reid said Thursday. “We would be foolish at this stage to pick winners and losers.”

Republicans and much of the health care industry are against the idea of a public plan. Republicans say they don’t want health care decisions in the hands of bureaucrats.

The insurance industry in particular opposes the plan, saying such a program would put them out of business.

In an effort to stave off such a proposal, the insurance industry and other health care sectors issued a vague promise earlier this week to reduce health care cost increases by $2 trillion over the next decade.

Meanwhile, House Republicans sent President Obama a letter pledging to find “common ground” and asking for a meeting, saying they were being left out of the debate.

“The meetings the administration is having now do not involve us,” said Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican and chairman of the GOP’s Health Care Solutions Group. “We’d like to be involved.”

• Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

• Jennifer Haberkorn can be reached at jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.old.

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