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Senate Vote on Health Care Reform Bill Put Off Until After the Summer Recess

July 24, 2009
Related Topics: Financial Impact, Benefit Design and Communication, Health and Wellness, Latest News
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the plug Thursday, July 23, on the full Senate taking up sweeping health care reform legislation before the August recess.

“It is better to get a product that’s based on quality and thoughtfulness than on trying to just get something through,” Reid, D-Nevada, said at a news briefing.

While a blow to President Barack Obama, who pressed Congress to take up reform bills before the recess, the delay is not a surprise, Reid acknowledged.

While the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed a reform bill last week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, has been working for weeks to develop a reform bill that would have support from at least a few Republican members on that panel.

The Senate committees share jurisdiction on health care reform legislation.

Even if there were a sudden agreement on a Finance Committee bill, there would not have been enough time for Senate leaders to come up with one bill that merged proposals from the two Senate committees and complete action before the recess, now scheduled for August 7.

Action on reform legislation also has been bogged down in the House.

While two panels—the Education and Labor and Ways and Means committees—have completed action, a third panel, the Energy and Commerce Committee, has not. Opposition from both Republicans and conservative Democrats—part of the so-called Blue Dog coalition—has forced Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-California, to delay scheduled votes on the bill several times this week.

While the Senate and House bills differ, both would move the nation close to universal health care coverage. More than 15 percent of the U.S. population now lacks health insurance coverage. Included in the bills are requirements that employers offer coverage or be assessed a fine, that individuals enroll in a health care plan and that the federal government provide premium subsidies to the low-income uninsured.

In addition, the measures call for establishing state insurance exchanges in which individuals and, later, employers could select plans offered by commercial insurers as well as some type of public plan.

The House bill also would impose a surtax on higher-income individuals to help fund the expansion of coverage.

Filed by Jerry Geisel of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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