WASHINGTON BUREAU — The Senate Finance Committee and three House panels hammered away today at their versions of health system legislation.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, today said Thursday that he hopes to have a bipartisan deal on a health care reform bill by the end of the day.
Baucus made the remarks after huddling for about 2 hours with the 5 Finance Committee members most closely involved in the negotiations.
But Baucus made his statement as the health insurance industry was attacking a proposal to defray some of the cost of new health programs by imposing $100 billion in taxes or fees on insurers.
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The industry blasted the proposal, which was offered Wednesday by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. – 3 members of the Senate Finance Committee.
Sens. Kurt Conrad, D-N.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, later said they also could support some kind of levy.
Schumer, Menendez and Stabenow said Congress “must rein in” insurers, by tightening regulation and increasing market competition.
They justified the idea of imposing a new tax on health insurers by contending that the health insurance industry has been “a big part of the problem” of high uninsured and high costs, and “now must be part of the solution.”
Since 2001, health insurance profits have increased 418% and premiums have doubled, the proposal supporters argued.
The proposal supporters said they were not “drawing lines in the sand” over the design of the fee, but they suggested that, depending on how it was designed, it could raise $100 billion.
Because private insurers stand to gain the most from the influx of millions of consumers that would be generated by health care reform legislation, the industry should kick in for part of the cost, proposal supporters said.
“Our broken health care system is working all too well for many private health insurers,” Schumer said. “They need to become a better partner as we work to enact a health care reform bill without adding to the deficit. It only makes sense that the health insurance industry, which stands to gain over 40 million new consumers under a reformed system, should pay its fair share,” he said.
Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, said that the health insurance industry already has made significant concessions in an effort to support health reform initiatives, and that a new tax would be inappropriate.
The industry has embraced reforms and “worked very hard to embrace the concerns of the American people,” Zirkelbach said.