Pelosi Sending Three Versions of Health Bill to CBO
By Ben Pershing
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she would send three different versions of a health-care bill to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis, bringing the House one step closer to a vote on a combined reform package.
One day after the CBO announced an $829 billion price tag for the Senate Finance Committee's health-care bill, Pelosi asked the office to crunch numbers on her chamber's measure, which combines the work of three different House committees. But while the Senate Finance bill does not include a government-sponsored insurance plan, Pelosi's bill will, and she is asking for a price tag on three different variations of the idea.
"I think it's very clear from our conversations with the members that the votes are there for a public option," Pelosi said. "What I sent to the CBO has a number of versions."
House negotiations on the public option have focused for several weeks on the issue of reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals. Many liberals want the rates in a government-run insurance plan -- the so-called public option -- to match those currently paid through Medicare, arguing that would help keep costs down and make the plan affordable and competitive compared with private insurance. But some moderate and rural Democrats complain that Medicare reimbursement rates in their districts are far too low, and a public option using the same rates might drive their local hospitals out of business.
Pelosi said Thursday that she would send one bill to the CBO with what she called a "robust public option," that would reimburse health-care providers at 5 percent above Medicare rates. The other two versions would have rates negotiated between the government and providers. "There's no question that the robust public option scores very well," Pelosi said, emphasizing that the first version would cost less but acknowledging that it might not be able to garner the 218 votes needed for passage. (Democrats hold 256 seats in the House.) "It's very close," she said.
Despite that split in her caucus, Pelosi said she felt "we're in a very good place, because we have many good options. ... There will be the votes for a public option. Now it's a question of which one."
After Pelosi gets the CBO's analysis back, Democratic leaders and the House Rules Committee will complete the job of assembling a bill for floor consideration. The leadership has already ruled out bringing a bill to the floor next week, so the week of Oct. 19 would be the earliest time a vote would occur.
Pelosi also acknowledged Thursday that House Democrats, who have been divided on how to pay for their measure, were considering paying for a portion of their package with "a windfall profits tax on income from the insurance companies."
Pelosi said she was waiting to hear back from Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) on how much revenue such a tax would yield, and she cautioned that the discussions were "very preliminary." But Pelosi also made clear that she had no qualms asking health-insurance companies to make more sacrifices for reform, because they would be guaranteed millions of new customers.
"We think they can put more on the table," Pelosi said.
October 8, 2009; 12:40 PM ET
Categories: Dem. Leaders , Health Reform , House
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