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BAUCUS ENDS BID FOR BIPARTISAN BILL

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats' most concerted quest for a bipartisan compromise on health care collapsed Tuesday as Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced he would move ahead with his long-delayed proposals without any guarantee of Republican support.

Even as Baucus hit that roadblock from the right, he also took a blow from his own party's left, as a senior Senate Democrat declared that too many concessions have already been made and he would not support the emerging bill because it did not include a public insurance option.

"I cannot agree with (Baucus) on this bill," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., a senior member of the Finance Committee who has been briefed on the proposal. "There is no way, in its present form, that I will vote for it."

The Baucus plan, which scales back President Barack Obama's ambitious proposals both in scope and cost, is considered a likely template for the measure that will ultimately clear the Senate. It has been designed to allay the concerns of moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats as well as Republicans.

The Finance Committee is scheduled to begin voting on its provisions next week. By the time the panel finishes amending and debating the bill, Baucus said he hoped the measure will have gained some Republican backing. But a last-minute session with his GOP counterparts - the latest in a months-long string of such negotiations - broke up late Tuesday with no commitment of Republican support.

David Axelrod, Obama's senior political adviser, met Tuesday with Senate Democrats to underscore the political risks of failing to revamp the health care system. According to Baucus, he cited polls showing high public demand for changes - and increasing support as people learn the details of what Democrats are trying to do.

Survey: Cost of health benefits to rise

Many Americans with health benefits face an erosion of coverage next year under the existing health care system, according to a survey released Tuesday, as employers continue to cut costs.

Forty percent of employers surveyed said they are likely to increase the amount their workers pay out of pocket for doctor visits. Almost as many said they are likely to raise annual deductibles and the amount workers pay for prescription drugs.

Nine percent said they plan to tighten eligibility for health benefits; 8 percent said they plan to drop coverage entirely. Forty-one percent of employers said they were "somewhat" or "very" likely to increase the amount employees pay in premiums - though that would not necessarily mean employees are paying a higher percentage of the premiums. Employers could simply be passing along the same proportional share of the overall increase that they did in 2009.

The survey was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust. Leaders of the organizations said their findings underscore the need for reform that reins in costs.

President Barack Obama has argued that, without reform, people who currently have insurance could lose coverage or find it increasingly difficult to afford.

Washington Post

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