Members of the Senate today stuck mainly to the same arguments they have been making for months as they continued to debate H.R. 4872, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “fixer” bill.
President Obama signed H.R. 3950, the PPACA bill, into law Tuesday.
That bill would require most substantial employers to offer health coverage and most individuals to have coverage; create health insurance exchange and nonprofit health insurance cooperative programs to help individuals and small groups get subsidized coverage; and impose many requirements on health insurance plans and health insurers, such as minimum loss ratios and bans on annual and lifetime benefits caps.
The bill would not directly affect self-insured employer plans.
H.R. 4872 would make some changes in PPACA, such as increasing the tax penalty for affected individuals who fail to buy qualified health coverage to $2,000, from $750, to discourage individuals from waiting until they are sick to buy coverage.
Democrats rejected more than 20 amendments offered by Republicans, but Alan Frumin, the Senate parliamentarian, required Democrats to send the bill back to the House, to remove two college financial aid provisions that are unrelated to the health provisions. Frumin says those provisions are not eligible for consideration under the rules of the Senate budget reconciliation measure process. That process cuts the number of votes needed to get a measure through the Senate to 51, from 60.
Republicans contended during floor debate on H.R. 4872 that the Reconciliation Act of 2010 would make the problems in PPACA even worse, by leading to an expensive, heavily bureaucratic, job-killing government takeover of health care.
Democrats argued that the bill would save money, protect jobs and help people now shut out of the mainstream health care system, get better care, and avoid the threat of financial ruin when they need care.
But senators reserved their most heartfelt comments for complaints about the process.
Republicans accused Democrats of shutting them out of the process of crafting the health bills, and of refusing even to allow for floor discussion of a number of proposed Republican amendments to H.R. 4872, such as an amendment offered by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to require members of Congress and staffers to get their health coverage through the health insurance exchange system, and an amendment offered by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to lower interest rates on on student loans.
“If we would have had the open amendment process that we had been promised or even if we had, as I had urged last October, that bipartisan summit had occurred then instead of last month…,” Sen. Olympia Snowe, D-Maine, said, according to an unofficial record of Senate floor proceedings posted on the Senate Republicans’ website. “Imagine if they had had the opportunity to sit down with the actual legislative language and through working through all of the issues, determining what works and what doesn’t work. We could have crafted a better product, but now we’ll never know.”
But Democrats argued that Republicans were pushing for changes knowing that they would never vote for the bill no matter what changes that the Democrats made, and that the current list of proposed amendments is simply an example of legislative dirty tricks.