Six Senators on the Senate Finance Committee have been meeting several hours a day for the past three weeks to craft a bi-partisan compromise bill. The Senators continued to insist that they are making steady progress on a health reform bill that would provide coverage to about 97 percent of all Americans. However, two GOP members of the group said that deadlines should be irrelevant and that getting it right cannot be done by August 7, the date the summer Congressional recess begins. GOP Senators Charles Grassley (Iowa) and Mike Enzi (Wyoming), joined by centrist GOP Senator Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Democratic Senators Max Baucus (Montana), also chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Kent Conrad (North Dakota) and Jeff Bingaman (New Mexico) are re-crafting a version of the bill estimated to cost just under $1 trillion over 10 years.
The six Senators have methodically addressed issue after issue in an attempt to find workable solutions to implement new coverage options and requirements. The legislation is expected to have a requirement for individuals to obtain coverage, and consumers would choose their insurance options through state-based health exchanges. Financing options are expected to include significant cut-backs in Medicare and Medicaid payments as well as taxes on insurance companies offering “high-end” coverages costing over $25,000 a year.
Senator Conrad has been pushing the concept of non-profit, member-owned cooperatives (co-ops) to provide coverage in lieu of the public option, government run programs featured in the House Tri- Committee bill. Particular benefits would not be mandated under the Committee’s plan, but there would be four benefit categories with coverage ranging from 65 percent of medical costs to around 90 percent, and insurers would be required to offer coverage in at least two categories. In common with the other plans, pre-existing conditions exclusions would be prohibited.
The six Senators plan to continue their daily meetings through the end of the week, but have refused to put themselves on a deadline for completion. It is widely expected that discussions will continue at some level through the recess, however, so that completion of a Senate Finance Committee bill can occur shortly after Congress reconvenes in early September.