Health Care Reform: The Home Stretch?

On March 3, President Obama gave a speech laying out the process for moving health care reform forward (read, watch).  Since then, House and Senate leaders, along with White House officials, have been working to craft the package of “fixes” that would be voted on in the House (along with the Senate bill) and then sent to the Senate under budget reconciliation rules (requiring 51 votes to pass). Here’s the latest timeline:

  • Today: CBO scores expected on the Senate bill + “fixes”
  • March 15: Legislation goes to House Budget Committee
  • March 17: Legislation goes to House Rules Committee
  • March 18: earliest full House vote could take place
  • March 29-April 9: Easter/Passover recess (both House and Senate)

Several Hurdles Remain

In the House:

  • Abortion: There are indications some moderate House democrats are softening their opposition to the Senate abortion language – which, by some analysis, is actually more pro-life than the House language.
  • Immigration: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is threatening to vote against the bill unless immigration provisions are changed (which is likely impossible under budget reconciliation rules). CHC members point out that barring undocumented immigrants from purchasing insurance in the exchange with their own money (as the Senate bill does) is not only anti-immigrant but makes no economic sense.

In the Senate:

  • Filibuster by Amendment: Although the reconciliation process is not subject to filibusters, some Republican Senators have said they will submit numerous amendments and points of order in an effort to stall the process. In the past, the ability to submit unlimited amendments has never been used in this way. Senate leadership may rule some amendments out of order as “dilatory.”

Other Details: It’s looking more and more likely that the health bill will be merged with a student loan package. A “tax extenders” bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday contained $27 billion in savings that were originally part of the health care bill. These savings may be transferred back to the health bill. President Obama has delayed his trip to Asia from March 18 to March 21 in order to help with the final push on health care reform.

The Public Option… Mostly Dead: 41 Senators are reportedly now on record as saying they support the inclusion of a Public Option in reform legislation (keep in mind, that’s still far short of 51). In the House, on Tuesday, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) introduced the “Public Option Act”, (H.R. 4789), which would allow anyone to buy into Medicare.

MHS Assembly: I had the pleasure of delivering a presentation on health care reform to those gathered for the Mennonite Health Services Assembly in Norfolk, Virginia, this past weekend. A copy of the presentation can be found here.

For additional resources on health care reform, visit the Abundant Life health care page.

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