KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Blue Dogs Delay House Health Bill Unveiling

Fiscally conservative Democrats in the House are delaying a health care reform bill by withholding their support from it until certain concerns are addressed, the Associated Press reports.

"The Blue Dog Democrats' list of demands came on the eve of House Democratic leaders' planned unveiling of their final bill Friday. The bill release was pushed back to Monday at the earliest and Democratic leaders agreed to devote Friday to meetings with the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs to work through their concerns. These include the need for more cost containment measures, protections for small businesses and a focus on rural health care." 

A tricky Blue Dog concern for the Democratic leadership to address, is "the shape of a new public insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. House leaders envision making payment rates to providers in the plan some 5 percent higher than Medicare payment rates. Blue Dogs say they can't support any link to Medicare rates, which they say pays well below market rates and varies unfairly around the country. That puts House leaders in a tough spot since many liberal Democrats are insistent that a new public plan be linked to Medicare" (Werner, 7/10).

The New York Times reports that the House version will not tax employer-provided health benefits, according to House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California. "Instead, the House Ways and Means Committee was said to be nearing agreement on an income tax surcharge of 2 percent or more on Americans with the highest incomes - those earning more than $250,000. The surtax would rise for those earning $500,000 and rise again for those earning more than $1 million.

"At the same time, aides said that the House was moving away from other ideas, including a proposed sales tax on sodas and other sugary drinks and a new payroll tax of 0.3 percent to be paid by employees and employers."

Another idea from House Democrats includes ending tax breaks for health care flexible spending accounts (Herszenhorn, 7/9).

Pelosi in CQPolitics: "'I have told the Three Tenors (the three committee chairmen writing the House bill) we must wring every possible dollar out of the health system... in order to help cut the cost,' Pelosi said. She said she told the chairmen, 'I want to squeeze out what you can from the system - savings, savings, savings. ... Otherwise the bill is endless'" (Epstein, 7/9).

And, though twenty-two New Democrat and Blue Dog lawmakers said Thursday they support a "robust" public plan, The Hill reports: "Democratic centrists remain the biggest obstacle to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) ability to pass a healthcare bill with a public plan, and many conservative Democrats oppose a public option as unfair to private insurers. Democratic centrists remain the biggest obstacle to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) ability to pass a healthcare bill with a public plan, and many conservative Democrats oppose a public option as unfair to private insurers" (Soraghan, 7/9).

Politico: "Asked to estimate the proposal's cost, (California Rep. Pete) Stark - who said that White House health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle and budget director Peter Orszag have been heavily involved in the negotiations - replied, 'Right under $1 trillion. ... We're trying to do it on the back of an envelope, but I don't have any more than a guess'" (O'Connor and Frates, 7/9).

Roll Call: "(Rep. Mike) Ross (D-Ark.) said that the Blue Dogs would meet with the three committee chairmen writing the bill on Friday to try to address some of their demands. Ross said some concerns could be addressed before the bill goes to markup and others could potentially be dealt with via amendments in committee."

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