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Health Reform Hearings Begin With Hopes of Having Bill Ready in July

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, June 23, 2009

Two of the three House committees—Energy and Commerce and Education and Labor—that unveiled an 852-page healthcare reform draft last week will go into full gear today with their own public hearings on healthcare reform; the third committee, Ways and Means, will begin hearings on Wednesday.

While the hearings are separate, the committees are deliberately moving together to create a reform bill that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) predicted last week will be ready in the House by the end of July—complete with some type of public insurance option. "I feel confident that what we put together will be reconcilable . . . with the Senate," she said at a news conference.

"When the three of [those House committees] work together, they are one bill," said Julius Hobson, a senior policy advisor at Bryan Cave LLP, in Washington, DC. This will be significant when they start looking at financing the reform measure—now estimated at about $1 trillion over a 10-year period.

About 14-15 years ago, when the Clinton administration was pushing for healthcare reform on Capitol Hill, the House side had four primary oversight committees and seven secondary committees "that all got a piece of the bill," Hobson said. "Which is one of the things that you knew was going to kill [the bill]."

Moving today toward this unified structure might make it easier for legislation to be approved. "The three primary committees are the only committees. They worked together. They drafted the bill together," Hobson said. "So if there is any paring back, they can work together to make that happen."

The House bill, written basically without Republican input, includes provisions for an insurance exchange with a public option, requires all Americans to purchase health insurance, provides small business credits, and enhances prevention and wellness programs.

Meanwhile, on the Senate side, hearings on the proposed bill are continuing in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; however, the previous end of week deadline for bill passage for that committee is gone.

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