Democrats in Congress begin to craft health-care legislation

WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress are gearing up for what could be a crucial, month-long drive to craft health care legislation before the July 4 recess.

Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives will begin preliminary consultation Tuesday with rank-and-file members over the ultimate shape of the bill that could expand coverage to the 46 million uninsured Americans and possibly create a government health insurance entity.

The chairmen of the three House committees drafting health care overhaul legislation are scheduled to address a House Democratic caucus Tuesday. The panels, Ways and Means, Education and Labor and Energy and Commerce, are working together to develop one legislative proposal.

"The committee chairs . . . have been meeting regularly and are very coordinated" and are in close consultation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly. He said that House Democrats hope to introduce a bill within the next few weeks or perhaps sooner.

In the Senate, members of the Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panels are continuing to develop health care legislation. Finance members are scheduled to meet Thursday, and the panel's chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has said he plans to unveil a bill the week of June 15. The health panel's members are scheduled to meet throughout the week, and a hearing is scheduled for Thursday on health care overhaul issues.

While Baucus has said he wants to win Republican support for his health care plan, that task was made more difficult after all but one Republican on the panel wrote to President Barack Obama expressing their concern for a government-run "public plan" health insurance option.

"At a time when major government programs like Medicare and Medicaid are already on a path to fiscal insolvency, creating a brand new government program will not only worsen our long-term financial outlook but also negatively impact American families who enjoy the private coverage of their choice," the Republican senators wrote in a June 5 letter, which became public Monday.

"Washington-run programs undermine market-based competition through their ability to impose price controls and shift costs to other purchasers," they wrote.

The senators were responding to an earlier letter from Obama to Baucus and the health panel's chairman, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in which the president reiterated his support for a public plan to be included in health care overhaul legislation.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who's been working closely with Baucus to draft the health care bill, signed the letter to Obama. The only Finance Republican who didn't sign it was Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Julia Wanzco, a spokeswoman for Snowe, said that Snowe is continuing to work with Baucus on making health insurance affordable. "Senator Snowe has emphasized that we must first, reform health insurance, and if plans then fail to offer affordable coverage, a public plan should then be offered from day one," Wanzco said.

Democratic leaders in both chambers have said they want to pass their respective plans before the August recess.

(Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care-policy research organization that isn't affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)


How Congress might tax your health benefits

Washington state health panel could be model for U.S.

Study: More bankruptcies blamed on medical costs

Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington

Related stories from Idaho Statesman