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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Baucus in the pockets of Big Insurance and Big Pharma

Buying insurance in the Baucus for- profit exchange plan would cost by CBO $14,400 for family coverage with no government subsidies. Compare this to the $8300 for the federal employee family Blue Cross Basic plan with employee and government premiums totaled. So the exchange option will cost over $6000 more for for-profit insurance with no government negotiation. This now on top of his double-dealing with Big Pharma! Talk about waste, fraud and abuse, Baucus is guilty on all accounts.

Democrats Question Baucus's $80B Deal With Drug Makers

By Ceci Connolly, Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 23, 2009 12:35 PM


Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) faced an early test of his leadership Wednesday after fellow Democrats challenged the $80 billion deal he struck with drug makers to help pay for health-care reform.
Nearing the end of a 13-hour opening day of work on Baucus's bill to overhaul the nation's health-care system, several committee members pressed Tuesday night for an amendment extracting larger company rebates on medications the government purchases for low-income senior citizens.
The proposal jeopardizes an agreement that Baucus and the Obama White House struck to limit the drug industry's exposure over the next 10 years to $80 billion. Proponents said it would produce an additional $86 billion in revenue for federal coffers, money that could be dedicated to expanding the health bill in other areas. The money also would help efforts by the chief sponsor of the drug company amendment, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), to reduce cuts to the Medicare Advantage private insurance program, which is popular with seniors in his state.
"This is a metaphor for where this bill is headed," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who supports the amendment and described it as a measure of "whose side you are on."

The lone committee Democrat to speak against the amendment was Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who said it "doesn't seem fair" to renege on an agreement struck many months ago. The pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is one of the top 10 employers in Carper's home state. Baucus, who remained silent during the drug debate, postponed a vote on the amendment at least until Wednesday.

After the committee convened Wednesday, members spent the better part of the morning wrangling over an amendment offered by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) stipulating that the "legislative language" of the bill and a final cost analysis by the Congressional Budget Office be posted online 72 hours before the committee votes on the package. Democrats called the amendment a delaying tactic that would force the committee to wait an additional two to three weeks before voting, and they argued that the panel traditionally has acted on the basis of "conceptual language," or plain English, about what proposed legislation means rather than the highly esoteric legislative language, with its numerous references to different parts of the U.S. code.
"It is gobbledygook to most people," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). "Anybody who thinks that would be transparent to the American people is really not telling it like it is."
Republicans insisted that the CBO needs final legislative language to determine precisely what provisions cost, and they complained that they were being rushed toward a vote. "What is the rush?" Bunning demanded. "Taking a few extra weeks will not kill me, I hope, or anyone else on this committee."
The Bunning amendment ultimately was voted down, mainly along party lines. A competing amendment offered by Baucus passed on a party-line vote. It required that "conceptual language in plain English" and a complete CBO cost analysis be publicly available on the Finance Committee's Web site ahead of a final vote to send the health-care reform bill to the full Senate.
Tuesday's debate over the deal with drug manufacturers capped a day that opened with battle lines clearly drawn. Democrats and Republicans both found plenty to criticize in the legislation, particularly its requirement that all U.S. citizens and legal residents must buy health insurance at potentially high costs.
Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), a member of the panel and the Senate's No. 2 Republican, called the measure "a stunning assault on liberty" that would lead to higher taxes and less consumer choice.

But Baucus defended his work and urged his colleagues to "do our part to make quality, affordable health care available to all Americans."
Republicans outlined specific provisions they will seek to change or eliminate as the committee debates hundreds of amendments, a discussion that could stretch into next week. One target-rich area: the more than $500 billion in Medicare changes that the bill proposes, to squeeze waste from the insurance program for seniors. Another is the fine that the measure would impose on Americans who do not buy health insurance, which the GOP describes as a tax on the middle class. And they warn that the legislation's hefty new industry fees would be passed on to consumers.
Some Democrats, meanwhile, said they would press to further reduce costs for the millions of Americans who would be required to buy coverage.
Baucus revised his bill even before submitting it to the committee Tuesday morning, adding more aid for middle-class families and watering down a tax provision that could target a small number of union households.

The bill would help extend health insurance to an estimated 94 percent of Americans, including 29 million who currently have none. An estimated 11 million people would join Medicaid under the legislation, and 25 million others would gain access to a new private-insurance exchange, including 7 million people who currently buy their own plans or pay for expensive coverage through their employers.
Democrats' primary concern with the Baucus plan is that it would not adequately subsidize working-class and middle-class households, which could be required to pay 2percent to 12 percent of their income toward insurance premiums. After Baucus's revisions, no person who receives coverage through the insurance exchange would pay more than $3,987 a year for deductibles and co-payments; families' out-of-pocket costs would be limited to $7,973.
His changes would also make it easier for people whose employers offer unaffordable coverage to join the exchanges. And he would lower premium costs for older policyholders: While his original proposal would have allowed insurance companies to charge people in their early 60s up to seven times as much as younger customers, his modified bill would bar them from making seniors pay more than four times the lowest policy cost.

Facing complaints about his primary source of revenue for the package -- a tax on expensive insurance policies -- Baucus has proposed adjustments. He would raise the tax from 35 percent to 40 percent but apply it to fewer policies, making exceptions for non-Medicare retirees, people with high-risk jobs, and others who pay higher premiums because of their age or occupation, not because their benefits are particularly generous.

To cover the cost of the new provisions, Baucus proposes reducing the surplus the bill would generate over the next decade from $49 billion to $21 billion. He would also change the tax treatment of medical expenses, barring people from claiming them as itemized deductions unless they exceed 10 percent of income, rather than the 7.5 percent of income in current law.

After an outcry by manufacturers of medical devices, Baucus said he would exempt low-priced consumer products such as cotton swabs from a $4 billion tax on that industry. He also would increase a fee on insurance companies. And he accepted a new provision offered by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that would change the way Medicare reimburses doctors, to reward the quality of care in addition to quantity.
But some committee Democrats said they would offer further amendments aimed at making coverage more affordable. "I believe we need to continue to work on it," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.). "We all have lists, and that's what this process will be about in the next few days."

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