- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Senate Finance Committee’s “Gang of Six” is working to strengthen the citizenship requirements for obtaining health care coverage - a hot topic highlighted by Rep. Joe Wilsons “You lie!” outburst during President Obama’s congressional address.

The group also is looking at a new medical-malpractice provision, pursuing Mr. Obamas call for such a money-saving measure that is coveted by Republican lawmakers.

Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, also said Friday that members of the bipartisan negotiating team could have a response to Mr. Obama’s proposal on Monday. Mr. Baucus plans to release a formal health care overhaul proposal early next week, with or without Republican support.

“We are starting to reach closure,” he said, adding that Monday could be the Gang of Six’s last meeting.

The group of three Republicans and three Democrats has been trying to find a bipartisan compromise for weeks, but hope that all six will sign on is dimming. Mr. Baucus said he planned to work through the weekend to settle the final points of contention, which include how to expand Medicaid and to what extent. To that end, the group will speak Monday with state governors, who would face the bills from new enrollees.

The medical malpractice provision likely will help encourage Republican support. The group is working on a variation of legislation introduced in 2007 by Mr. Baucus and Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, one of the Republicans in the room.

That bill would have issued grants to states to set up alternatives to the current tort litigation system, with the goal of bringing down costs by communicating errors early and setting “reasonable” limits to compensation.

The group also is reviewing provisions that would prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining government health care subsidies or from getting on a government plan, said Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and member of the Gang of Six.

The group’s plan would require individuals to use their Social Security numbers to obtain a low- or middle-income tax subsidy or to sign on to a cooperative insurance plan, but it’s working on how to extend coverage to legal residents without a Social Security number.

Mr. Conrad said illegal immigrants would be able to purchase private insurance, as they are now, but would not be able to get government assistance to help pay for it.

“There’s a high degree of confidence that we have an outline to prevent anybody here illegally from benefiting from these initiatives,” Mr. Conrad said.

The chairman’s framework, distributed last week, said people in the country illegally wouldn’t get assistance, but the issue got new attention Wednesday when Mr. Wilson, South Carolina Republican, shouted “You lie!” when Mr. Obama said illegal immigrants wouldn’t get aid.

Critics say there will be no way to prevent illegal immigrants from accessing the government insurance programs, whether it’s a public insurance plan or a cooperative insurance program.

The nonpartisan FactCheck.org said it is possible that 5.6 million of the estimated 9.7 million uninsured immigrants are in the country illegally, though they said there is no “hard data” to verify it.

The other members of the group include Democrat Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Republicans Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

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