Update – “America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009”

by Tim Anderson

This week, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus released the Chairman’s Mark of the “America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009.”  This is the latest health care reform proposal.  It is 223 pages, but is expected to be much longer after the mark up process is completed.

Highlights of Healthy Future Act

The Act would:

  • Require all Americans to purchase health care insurance or pay an adjustable fine (the maximum would be $1,500/taxpayer or $3,800/family)
  • Create an internet insurance exchange
  • Give consumers the choice of non‐profit, consumer owned and oriented plans (co-operatives)
  • Ban insurance companies from denying care due to pre‐existing conditions
  • Provide tax credits for small businesses and low-income individuals
  • Not provide insurance for illegal immigrants

For the text of the Chairman’s Mark, go to:http://finance.senate.gov/sitepages/leg/LEG%202009/091609%20Americas_Healthy_Future_Act.pdf.

Overview

  • The Congressional Budget Office estimates the Chairman’s Mark would cost $856 billion over ten years.
  • The Senate Finance Committee is tentatively scheduled to start marking up the bill on Tuesday, September 22.
  • There appears to be nothing in the bill that would mandate health insurance to be provided to independent contractors.
  • Unlike bills previously passed by the House Ways & Means, Energy & Commerce, and Education & Labor Committees as well as the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, there is no government-run health care program (public option) provision in the Senate Finance Committee’s bill.

Forecast

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced that Senate Democrats are going to hold a special caucus to discuss the Finance Committee’s bill.  Senator Reid said that Democrats are prepared to use budget reconciliation as a last resort.  (Reconciliation is a legislative process of the Senate to allow a contentious budget bill to be considered without being subject to filibuster.) Already, some Democrats said they would not vote for the bill in its current form because it lacks a public option.

Senator Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia has stated his opposition of the bill by saying it features a “big, big tax” on middle class workers (including West Virginia coal miners).

There are currently no Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee who will vote for the bill in its current form.  Olympia Snowe was one of the last Senate Republicans that Democrats hoped might back the bill, but due to concerns about how the plan would be paid for, she announced she cannot support it at this time.

For the Senate Finance Committee bill to move forward, it will have to be voted out of the Committee and then to full Senate floor vote.  After this is accomplished, the bill would then most likely proceed to a joint conference committee of the House and the Senate to reconcile the differences between the bill and those proposals passed by the three House Committees.

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