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Senate Finance Delays Reform Bill Markup Until After Recess

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, July 31, 2009

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) said Thursday that his panel will not mark up a bipartisan healthcare reform bill before August 7, which is the beginning of the Senate's summer recess.

The panel of senators will continue to meet during the recess—and through the summer, if necessary, by videoconference, they said.

While Baucus and Finance ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) appeared together on Thursday to dispel talk that negotiations had broken down, some committee members are showing frustrations.

The panel still had "a number of remaining issues to resolve before they will be able to reach a bipartisan agreement," said Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY), who is also the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which passed its healthcare reform bill earlier this month. "We still have several areas where we haven't been able to come to a consensus. No deal is at hand and substantive issues, big and small, remain under discussion and need to be resolved. We need to keep working together," he said.

Meanwhile, in a prepared comment, Grassley said, "It'll be a lost opportunity if Democratic leaders in Congress and the administration force action on healthcare legislation that's not ready because of the complexity of the issue and the high stakes in getting it right."

"Republicans have been negotiating for a bipartisan bill that improves the health care system for everyone who relies on it," he added. "The bipartisan discussions that Chairman Baucus has led in the Senate Finance Committee have made very good progress because of his long term commitment to bipartisanship, and could lead to a bill that makes things better, not worse, but that'll never happen if Democrat leaders tell Republicans to take a hike by forcing the committee to move on an all Democrat bill."

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and several other Democratic senators joined with representatives of provider groups on Capitol Hill Thursday to urge completion of a healthcare reform measure.

"Our doctors' orders are very, very clear," Reid said. "If we don't start taking better care of our healthcare system, it's only going to get worse."

Joe Stubbs, MD, president of the American College of Physicians, said his patients "will experience irreparable harm if we leave it to a future Congress to pick up the pieces of our currently broken healthcare system. We can and should debate how to achieve these goals, but debate must not be an excuse for delay."

Meanwhile, Jim King, MD, American Academy of Family Physicians board chairman, said, "We have a rare opportunity to reshape healthcare in this country by providing primary care that prevents costly illnesses and coordinated care for different specialists and settings."

Other groups joining Reid in the briefing were the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Student Association, American Osteopathic Association, Doctors for America, and the National Physicians Alliance.


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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