Health Vote to Be Delayed as Senators Dispute Its Costs

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia is disappointed that a health care bill would turn nearly a half-trillion dollars over to insurance companies. He says their profits are “out of sight.”

Senator Olimpia J. Snowe of Maine gets upset that the bill would require people to buy insurance they cannot afford. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas fears that the bill would be too costly for the government.

And Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon warns that the bill would lock many workers into health plans selected by their employers, without allowing them to shop for better, cheaper plans, an alternative that could help drive down costs for everyone, The New York Times reports.

In the meantime, Senate Democrats are facing another round of delays in their effort to expand Americans’ access to health care because of concern over the cost of the plan and demands that they disclose more about it.

The Senate Finance Committee has yet to vote on its bill as it waits for the Congressional Budget Office to assess the cost. And a group of eight Democrats whose votes may be crucial to final passage urged that the public be given more time to read new drafts of the legislation.

Adding to the unease was the disclosure last night by a congressional panel that it underestimated the fees that drug companies, insurers and medical device makers would pay toward the overhaul. The industries would be assessed $29 billion more than first calculated, the Joint Committee on Taxation said, Bloomberg reports.

It was also reported, the Finance Committee is expected to vote this week, after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office completes an analysis of the legislation.

Liberals have challenged legislation nearing a vote in the Senate Finance Committee because it doesn't allow for a plan run by the federal government, which they view as key to expanding insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans. Instead, the bill would create a network of nonprofit health cooperatives, seeded with $6 billion of federal money, to compete with private insurers in a bid to contain prices.

Employer groups are stepping up their complaints about the panel's bill, saying some provisions are burdensome to businesses. "We thought that this bill needed a lot of improvement in the mark-up process," said James Gelfand, senior manager of health policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "It didn't get improvement. It was worsened."

Among other things, the Chamber is concerned that the bill calls for companies to pay a fine if they don't offer health insurance that costs less than 10% of an employee's income, and if that employee instead gets a government tax credit to buy coverage. An earlier draft set that threshold at 13% of the employee's income, The Wall Street Journal reports.