Yesterday, with a vote of 14-9, the Senate Finance committee approved it’s version of the health care overhaul bill. The bill, expected to cost $829 billion over ten years, is now in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office for negotiation of combining the Finance committee version with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee version that was passed earlier this summer. The combined bill is expected to be on the Senate floor the week of October 26, but until then, Senator Reid will be the mediator resolving key differences between the two versions of health care overhaul.
One of the biggest differences between the two bills, and likely to be one of the most difficult issues to be discussed, is whether or not a government-run insurance plan, best known as a public option, should be included in the final version of the bill. The HELP bill includes a public option; the Finance bill does not.
Another major topic of debate is whether or not employers should be required to provide insurance to employees. The HELP bill requires businesses with 25 or more employees to provide insurance to all employees and to pay 60% of premiums. If an employer to fails to comply, he faces a penalty of up to $750 per employee. The Finance bill does not specifically require employers to provide insurance, but it does require employers who do not provide insurance to pay a portion of any subsidy their workers receive to buy insurance.
The HELP bill and the Finance bill also differ on the issue of long term care. The HELP version calls for creation of a new government insurance program for long-term care which would be funded from its own premiums and it would pay out less in benefits than it would receive in premiums thus, according to the Congressional Budget Office, saving the government about $58 billion over its first 10 years. The Finance bill would simply not cut, but would strengthen Medicare benefits for individuals so the program can continue for years to provide benefits.
Since the HELP committee does not have authority over the Medicare and Medicaid programs or the power to raise revenue, the cost estimate of its version of the health care bill was determined in conjunction with the Finance committee version. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate, the Finance Committee’s draft health care bill would cost $829 billion over 10 years and would reduce the deficit by $81 billion over that time period.