June 17, 2009
Summary – HELP Committee Markup of “Affordable Health Choices Act”
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee convened to begin marking-up Chairman Edward Kennedy’s (D-MA) health reform legislation – the Affordable Health Choices Act. The bulk of the mark-up was allocated to opening remarks, as opposed to reviewing the bill in detail or discussing the roughly 300 amendments that have been filed thus far with the Committee on the bill. At the outset of today’s mark-up, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), presiding in Senator Kennedy’s absence, indicated that the Committee has structured the ongoing mark-up in such a way that would first address the quality, prevention, and workforce components – titles II, II, and IV of the legislation, respectively. The Committee intends to delve into these provisions and the accompanying amendments in more detail as the mark-up is expected to progress over the next week and a half.
In opening remarks, Committee Republicans repeatedly took the opportunity to convey their criticisms of both the process by which the Committee Majority has undertaken health reform legislation, as well as the substance of the underlying draft proposal. In particular, the Minority seized on the recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the Chairman’s draft legislation, which preliminarily scored portions of the bill at roughly $1 trillion despite only reducing the number of uninsured by a net 16 million individuals. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was quick to point out that the CBO score is limited in its estimate to only certain portions of the bill, noting that the $1 trillion figure would likely be much higher. “It is a joke,” McCain quipped. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) also stressed the need for more complete and concrete cost-estimates, noting that the CBO analysis is simply a “best guess on language that they don’t really know what it means yet.”
The draft health reform legislation does not reflect bipartisan input, several members of the Minority argued. This may be a “bipartisan discussion but this is by far not a bipartisan bill,” Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said in opening remarks. The Minority attacked many of the coverage policies proposed in the draft bill, stating that the bill falls far short of expanding coverage and controlling costs and thus does not even deliver on the President’s basic tenets of health reform. “This bill costs too much for not enough results,” Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) said, noting that the “incomplete” CBO estimate is indicative of a proposal whereby there is “not enough healthcare bang for our buck.” On the public plan option, the Minority reiterated long-standing concerns about the potential of a government-run healthcare option to essentially “ration” care and eliminate healthy private sector competition. This is beyond a “slippery slope” to a single-payer system, “it’s a greased slide,” Senator Gregg said.
The Majority attempted to vigorously refute criticisms on both the legislative process and bill substance, noting time and again that delaying health reform is simply not an option. Senator Dodd committed to Ranking Member Michael Enzi (R-WY) that he would ensure that there is ample opportunity throughout the process to hear the concerns of the Minority and ensure that they have an active role in moving a Committee bill forward. Senators Dodd and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) urged their counterparts to re-examine the numerous amendments that have been filed to date in an effort to reduce some of the redundancy but indicated that already there may be 20 or so amendments that the Majority would be willing to accept at this point.
The HELP Committee, which is tentatively scheduled to convene each weekday to mark-up the bill through June 26th, is working with the Senate Finance Committee with the intention of delivering a single bill on the Senate floor by July, prior to the August recess. The Senate Finance Committee had previously intended to release a mark by the end of this week, however their timeframe appears to be slipping in light of what we understand to be bipartisan negotiations presently taking shape that might ultimately postpone a mark-up until after the July 4th recess.
This information was provided by Health Policy Source.