Washington

Congress hopes to approve health care system reform legislation this year, a key House member says.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, said cuts in the Medicare Advantage program are likely to be one of the means used by Congress to pay for health care system reform.

The House bill also will include a “public option,” or a provision that will give working people the ability to participate in a government-run group health plan, Pallone said.

Pallone said the government also will offer to subsidize private insurance plans devised to cover those without health coverage.

That approach is a compromise between the proposals of liberal advocates of a single-payer program and the proposals of conservative advocates of keeping the current system, Pallone said.

“We will seek to have these programs designed so they will compete with each other,” Pallone said.

A House bill also will include an individual health coverage ownership mandate, Pallone said.

“We want the wealthy people and the young people to be in the pool, because that will bring down the total cost to everyone,” he said.

Pallone made the comments today at a conference organized by the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va.

Pallone said House and Senate committees want to report out a health care reform bill by May, which would allow both chambers to complete work on their drafts before Congress departs for its month-long summer recess in early August.

That would allow time for talks aimed at reconciling the two bills to occur in the fall, he said.

One key vote must occur soon: The House and Senate both are expected to complete work on their budget blueprints, or “reconciliation” legislation, this week.

The House reconciliation language is expected to allow lawmakers to bundle into a single bill all facets of health care reform, but it remains unclear whether the Senate version will do. If Congress lets members package all aspects of health reform in a single bill, that would permit health reform to pass the Senate with a majority vote, not the 60 votes required under regular order.

Pallone told NAHU conference attendees that a public-private partnership will be required for a reformed health care system to work.

“We want to upgrade the existing employer-based health care system,” he said, noting that the number of people who buy employer-based health coverage already has dropped to 60%, from 70%.

“We don’t want that to go down,” Pallone said.