WASHINGTON — Top Senate Democrats are close to finalizing their health bill and could unveil a measure as soon as early this week that would include stiffer penalties on employers who fail to provide health coverage.
Senate leaders plan to submit the bill to the Congressional Budget Office for a cost estimate as soon as Monday, and make the legislation public as soon as Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
Details of the legislation could change, but its broad outlines are becoming clear. Employers with more than 50 workers wouldn’t be required to provide health insurance, but they would face fines of up to $750 per employee if even part of their work force received a government subsidy to buy health insurance, this person said. A bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee had a lower fine of up to $400 per employee.
The bill to be brought to the Senate floor would create a new public health-insurance plan, but would give states the choice of opting out of participating in it, a proposal that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada backed last week.
The bill is expected to expand health coverage to tens of millions of Americans by giving low- and middle-income Americans subsidies to offset the cost of insurance, and expanding the Medicaid federal-state insurance program to cover a broader swath of the poor. Most people would be required to buy insurance or pay a fine, though exceptions would be made for those deemed unable to afford it.
Also expected are new rules on insurers to prevent them from denying coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions and from dropping customers’ insurance once they become ill.
Mr. Reid spent the weekend shoring up support for the bill from Democrats in the chamber. But some key moderate Democrats signaled Sunday that they remain uneasy about main planks of the legislation. “I certainly am not excited about a public option where states would opt out,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The bill is the culmination of days of meetings between Mr. Reid, other top Senate Democrats and White House officials, who melded two health bills that passed through Senate committees into one piece of legislation.
In both the House and Senate, Democratic leaders are showing determination to bring legislation to floor votes in November, with President Barack Obama saying he wants to sign a bill enacting his top domestic priority before the end of the year. The House is expected to unveil the latest version of its health bill as soon as this week.
What that all means is this; we still don’t know what is and what isn’t in it. You can bet it is, more than likely, over the original 1,503 pages, and the cost doesn’t take into account the collapsing real estate market.
Timing is everything in a crisis…
10.26.09: Harry Reid is pushing for the public option. Anybody surprised?
Senate Majority Leader will announce this afternoon that he plans to push ahead with a public option vote — one that includes an opt-out provision for states — even though he’s currently short several votes for passage, according to people close to the situation.
The Nevada Democrat has a 3:15 p.m. press conference to discuss details.
Leadership sources tell me that Reid, who spoke with virtually every member of his 60-member caucus this weekend, currently has between 56 and 57 votes for the opt-out, which is being pushed by Sen. Charles Schumer, according to Democratic aides.
A public option with a delayed “trigger” — supported by the White House and Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe — has between 58 and 59 backers. It could be floated as an alternative if the opt-out measure fails to obtain the 60 votes needed for cloture, sources said.
Time to melt the phone lines. U.S. Capitol Switchboard 202-224-3121.