The Health Care Beat: This Week's Developments

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With Congress scheduled to recess in just a few weeks, lawmakers have continued to focus on health care reform.

Here is a look at some of the latest developments:

  • This week, the Obama administration announced that it was nearing a deal with major hospital associations that would result in approximately $150 billion in cost savings, which would help to pay for reforming the nation's health care system, the New York Times reported. The deal comes a few weeks after the White House announced that it had reached a "historic agreement" between Medicare and the pharmaceutical industry to lower drug costs for seniors, while the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America promised to pledge $80 billion over 10 years to help to improve the health care system, the Times noted.

    In addition, in a July 7 statement, the president stressed that a public option for health care was still an important part of overall health care reform. "I am pleased by the progress we're making on health care reform and still believe, as I've said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest," said President Obama. "I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals."
  • On July 3, Democratic leaders on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) released a new health care reform plan that would require employers with 25 or more workers to provide health care to their workers or pay an annual fee of $750 for each full-time employee to the government, the Times reported. The plan would also create a public health insurance option, as well. It's expected that the HELP committee will vote on a health care plan sometime next week, the article noted.

    The Congressional Budget Office predicts the new proposal would cost $611 billion over the next 10 years and would cover 97 percent of Americans.

    However, not all members of the Senate HELP committee are hailing the proposal. In prepared remarks issued Tuesday, July 7, Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY), ranking member of the HELP committee, skewered the revised health care proposal and said the proposal "costs too much" and will leave some 34 million Americans without health insurance.

    "This bill doesn't come close to achieving our goal of reducing health care costs and helping everyone get the care they need," Enzi said. He noted the bill "contains a new tax on employers who do not offer health insurance to their employees" and said this will drive down wages and cause employers to reduce the number of their employees.

    Nonetheless, John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of the Small Business Majority (SBM), an organization advocating for health care reform on behalf of small businesses and the self-employed, told Inc. that the health care reform is crucial for the welfare of small business. He pointed to the "Gateway" feature of the proposed legislation that would allow individuals to purchase into a group system. "It is creating the opportunity to do bulk purchasing," Arensmeyer told Inc. and stressed: "The size of your business should not dictate the cost of your health care."

    In mid-June, SBM issued a statement that warned that, without reform, small businesses will see their health insurance increase by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years, costing jobs, profits, and wages. SBM contends that "comprehensive reform that includes an employer contribution, with appropriate levels of tax credits, sliding scales and exclusions, will give small businesses the relief they need, potentially saving them as much as $855 billion over the next 10 years, reducing lost wages by up to $339 billion, and preserving as many as 128,000 jobs." (To read more, click here.)
  • On Thursday, July 9, at 10:00 a.m., Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, will lead a Committee roundtable entitled "Health Care Reform: The Concerns and Priorities from the Perspective of Small Businesses." The roundtable will provide an opportunity to gain insight from small business owners and key groups on their ideas for health care reform and ways to help small businesses cope with their health care challenges.

    Among those participating in the roundtable are: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR); John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO, Small Business Majority; Kristie L. Arslan, executive director, Legislative Office, National Association for the Self-Employed; Amanda Austin, director, Federal Public Policy -- Senate, National Federation of Independent Business; David D. Ferreira, vice president for Government Affairs, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Todd McCracken, president and CEO, National Small Business Association; Michael Mitternight, president, Factory Service Agency, Inc.; Len Nichols, director, Health Policy Program, New America Foundation; Ronald Phipps, vice president, National Association of Realtors; and Ann Sullivan, president, Madison Services Group, Inc.