Questions Remain About Timing of Health Reform Bills

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , June 26, 2009

The healthcare reform debate in Washington is in a holding pattern as Senators are returning to their states for the Fourth of July recess.

They did not answer one question, though, before they left: Will bills be ready to be marked up by the two committees—Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions—shortly after they return on July 6?

Late Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), along with ranking minority member Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and committee members Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Olympia Snowe (D-ME), and Mike Enzi (R-WY), issued a brief statement regarding their efforts to "craft" a healthcare reform bill.

Reforming America's healthcare system is "a tremendous challenge, but it's a challenge we simply have to face," the senators said. They added that the issues addressing reform are "difficult and complex."

However, over the past several months, they said they've made progress toward "workable solutions" and that they remain "committed to continuing our work toward a bipartisan bill that will lower costs and ensure quality, affordable care." No timetable was included with the statement, though, of when they will finally mark up a bill.

This message followed an earlier one on Thursday from Baucus that the Finance Committee had finally identified options that the Congressional Budget Office said would fund a healthcare reform package for under $1 trillion over 10 years. Though not specifically pinpointed, it is believed that the senators have lowered the amount of insurance subsidies for lower- and middle-income Americans to bring some of the cost down.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, after considering more than 240 amendments during the past two weeks, came closer to having a bill to mark up by around July 6, according to Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), who has been chairing the committee in the absence of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA). It's a goal, though, that has puzzled and angered Republican members, who wanted to slow down the pace somewhat to go over the bill.

On the House side, the "tri-committee" hearings on the unified health reform bill finally concluded shortly before 7 p.m. on Thursday. The goal is to start marking up the bill once cost scoring from the Congressional Budget Office is received.

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

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