The Washington Post has gotten hold of the mark-up notes for the health care reform plan currently being revised by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) in the Senate Finance Committee. His version of the bill, being created largely on his own authority as chairman of that committee, with limited outside input, is likely to be the basis for whatever final legislation passes the Senate.
Although they run 262 pages long, these notes are not the final bill. They are more like a commentary on the bill and an account of what is in it. Assuming they are truthful, they present a more understandable explanation of the bill's content than most readers would get from the bill language itself because of the multiple references to prior legislation which take a great deal of effort to track down and research.
The legislation, as described in these notes, shows a genuine effort on Senator Baucus' part to address many of the objections to various aspects of the original HR3200. Though there are still major issues for concern, the greatest complaint may end up being that the bill as currently revised is so watered down that it isn't likely to really accomplish many of the goals set for health care reform by President Obama.
Here are some highlights:
• The bill does allow for interstate purchase of health insurance, though under restrictions which will not allow for real competition unless the states actively make an effort to follow through with their own deregulation.
• There is still a mandate forcing individuals to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. Interestingly, the $750 penalty is referred to specifically as an "excise tax" which goes directly against President Obama's claim that it is not a tax. The effectiveness (and offensiveness) of the mandate is also substantially undermined by specific provisions against any of the civil or criminal penalties previously proposed for those who don't pay the tax and don't get insurance. The government could only collect the tax out of money already in the government's possession, such as an individual's tax refund. These are very positive changes if you didn't like the mandate, but for those who did like it they do mean that there will still be people who can remain uninsured by choice with few real consequences.
• Interestingly, the bill includes a provision requiring members of Congress to enter into the same insurance pool as the general population and give up the special coverage which they currently enjoy, though they would continue to have a higher employer-paid premium than most workers do, assuring them first-class coverage.
• The bill contains provisions for a substantial protective tariff on imported drugs and medical equipment, totaling almost $7 billion a year. This implies some lifting of the current restrictions on the importation of drugs, but the specifics are not clear from the document.