- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

UPDATED:

A key Senate committee will vote Tuesday morning on legislation to overhaul the U.S. health care system, a major step in President Obama’s plan to reform the $2.5 trillion industry.

The legislation is expected to be passed in the Senate Finance Committee, which has 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, Maine Republican, said Tuesday she will vote in favor of health care reform when the Senate Finance Committee votes this afternoon.

“Pretty much everything has been said,” Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said when the debate began shortly after 10 a.m. “Now is the time to get the job done.”

He said committee members have submitted a balanced bill after many long meetings, 79 roll call votes and adopting 49 of 135 proposed amendments.

The final Senate bill will need 60 votes on the chamber floor to pass.

“We were rebuffed at every step,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and the committee’s ranking Republican member. “We can now see the bill continues to move further to the left.”

The Finance Committee would be the last of five congressional committees to pass the legislation, and its work is likely the foundation for a compromise plan on the Senate floor. The four other committees passed legislation in August.

The plan does not allow the government to compete with companies to sell insurance, which has become known as the “public option.”

RELATED STORY: Dems still clash on health reform in Senate

The insurance industry, fearing major losses if the legislation passes, made an 11th-hour attempt Sunday to derail the legislation by releasing an accounting report that found it would result in significant annual increases for single-payers and families.

On Monday, the White House and the AARP, which has not endorsed reform legislation, said the report, commissioned by America’s Health Insurance Plans, was flawed and dishonest.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that did the analysis, issued a statement late Monday acknowledging it did not look at the entirety of the legislation, only the effects of four provisions that the insurance group wanted analyzed, according to the Associated Press.

Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, will now begin negotiations on the 10-year, $829-billion plan with such key players as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and the White House.

The bill includes consumer protections such as limits on copays and deductibles and relies on federal subsidies to help lower-income families purchase coverage. Insurance companies would have to take all comers, and people could shop for insurance within new state marketplaces called exchanges.

Medicaid would be expanded, and though employers wouldn’t be required to cover their workers, they’d have to pay a penalty for each employee who sought insurance with government subsidies. The bill is paid for by cuts to Medicare providers and new taxes on insurance companies and others.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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