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Baucus Expects Bipartisan Support for Healthcare Reform

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, May 21, 2009

As far as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is concerned, healthcare reform is right on target.

"We planned for some time that our mark-up would be in mid-June. It's going to be mid-June," he said at a Thursday morning conference in Washington with reporters.

As for odds for a bipartisan agreement on legislation, he was optimistic—giving it a 75% to 80% chance of approval. "I've met with a lot of Republicans who want to vote for something that passes. They know it's the right thing to do."

The odds of having a public plan option in the final bill are good. Baucus was not saying exactly what that plan would look like--though he has one in mind. "Everything is going to stay on the table, but portions of it will be sculpted," he said, referring to the option. "That's a hot button."

Baucus said he wanted public and private health providers to work together on delivery system reform. The way he envisioned that happening was to direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to work with the private sector to develop quality metrics so they would be "working on the same page."

Citing Congressional Budget Office figures, he said he anticipated that reform legislation would cover approximately 94%-95% of the American population. Those not likely to not be included for coverage, though, are undocumented workers. The issue of including those workers would be "too politically explosive," he said. "But the point I'm making is that you will get near-universal coverage."

Baucus said he still sees changes in practice patterns—by eliminating overutilization--as a way to bend the ascending healthcare cost curve. "There's a lot of waste in the system," he said citing CBO's estimate that 29% of the $2.5 trillion spent on healthcare annually--or $800 million--was waste.

Also on Capitol Hill, Republicans have introduced their own comprehensive legislation. The Patients' Choice Act, introduced Wednesday by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Richard Burr (R-NC) and Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI.) and Devin Nunes (R-CA), includes goals similar to what Democrats are considering as they draw up their own legislation--although they make it clear they will oppose any "government-run programs." They proposed using "state-driven exchanges to facilitate real competition" between private plans to provide coverage.


Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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