WASHINGTON BUREAU — Senate Finance Committee leaders have confirmed that 6 members are making progress toward drafting bipartisan health reform legislation that the insurance industry could support.
But committee leaders say no deal is about to come out.
“While progress has been made in recent days, neither an accord nor an announcement is imminent,” Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the highest-ranking Republican member of the panel, said in a statement.
“Significant policy issues remain to be discussed among the members, and any one of these issues could preclude bipartisan agreement,” Baucus and Grassley said. “Members are continuing their methodical work this morning.”
The bipartisan version of the legislation would include incentives for employers to provide health insurance coverage for their workers rather than impose a more drastic mandate.
The Senate Finance bill also would mandate the creation of health insurance “cooperatives” modeled after rural electricity providers rather than creating the so-called “public option” health plan. Creation of a new public health plan program is strongly opposed by both health underwriters and agents.
Baucus emerged from a meeting with the 6 members of his committee who are working on the bipartisan bill and told reporters that he had received a preliminary report from the Congressional Budget Office.
He said that, based on a draft of the health reform bill that lawmakers are currently negotiating, the CBO estimates the cost of the bill to be less than $900 billion over 10 years.
The bill would provide coverage for 95% of all Americans by 2015 and is fully offset, Baucus said.
“In fact, according to the preliminary CBO report, the bill would actually reduce the federal deficit in the 10th year by several billion dollars,” he said. “In addition, employer-sponsored coverage increases throughout the life of the program. That is, there is no net crowd out.”
In his comments, Baucus warned that the current draft does not include resolution of several key issues. “Nevertheless, the report is encouraging,” he said.
One provision contained in the proposed legislation is prompting criticism from America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington.
This would be a proposed tax on insurance companies offering individual plans valued at more than a certain limit, estimated by AHIP to vary between $21,000 and $25,000, according to various reports.
Insurers would have to pay an excise tax on such policies, and the cost would likely be passed on to employers. While the structure isn’t clear, the tax would likely fall on the portion of any policy exceeding the mandated limit.
Robert Zirkelbach, an AHIP spokesman, says taxing insurers “is the wrong approach at the wrong time. New taxes on health care coverage will make coverage less affordable.”