House Dems’ Next Step In Health Reform: Repeal Of Insurance Antitrust Exemption
Lawmakers "hoping to revive President Barack Obama's stalled health care overhaul have started writing a compromise bill, but it's unclear when the legislation will be ready for votes, a top House Democrat said Tuesday," The Associated Press reports. "The measure would change the massive Senate-approved health bill to what bargainers from the White House, Senate and House agreed to last month, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said in a brief interview. ... The measure Rangel discussed would be a so-called reconciliation bill, a seldom-used procedure that only requires a simple majority of votes for Senate passage" (Fram, 2/2).
In the meantime, "House Democratic leaders plan to bring to the floor next week a bill to repeal the exemption insurance companies have to antitrust laws," says CongressDaily, adding: "That bill would kick off what Speaker Pelosi has said could be a series of smaller, free-standing pieces of health insurance-related legislation taken up as House and Senate Democratic leaders continue to work toward a solution to passing a comprehensive measure" (Edney and House, 2/3).
The Wall Street Journal reports that Democrats are hopeful passage of this targeted provision would revive the momentum for larger health reform. "[Democrats] say repealing the federal antitrust exemption would drive insurance prices down in regions where one health insurer dominates. Insurers say they already face tight regulation by the states, and the practical impact of the move is uncertain" (Adamy and Yoest, 2/2).
Politico notes that Pelosi's move is meant as a "part of her new two-track strategy to tackle things that won't be included in a more sweeping bill (t)he House bill would resemble a section of the House health care bill that ends an exemption for health and medical malpractice insurers and grants the federal government more authority to regulate antitrust laws. The Senate didn't include an antitrust provision in its health care legislation because (Reid) couldn't muster the 60 votes needed to include it" (O'Connor and Budoff Brown, 2/3).
Roll Call reports, though, that Democratic leaders "don't know" when they will take up health care again: "'I anticipate making a decision just as soon as the way forward is clear,'" House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday (Dennis, 2/2).
Fox News: "Hoyer indicated the Democratic brain trust was considering a number of options, ranging from a conference committee to resolve differences in the health bill, to using special budget rules that would allow Democrats to bypass the supermajority requirement to quash Senate debate. He also said it was possible that Democrats could break the broader bill into smaller pieces of legislation. But Hoyer appeared skeptical of that option" (Pergram, 2/2)
CQ HealthBeat: Reid "met with (Pelosi) Tuesday evening to discuss the stalled efforts. ... 'We hope to be in a position in the near future - don't put me down as to days or number of weeks - to move forward on health care,' Reid said. 'We plan to do it this year and to do it as quickly as we can'" (Armstrong and Wayne, 2/2).
The Hill: "Republicans say they have found a loophole in the budget reconciliation process that could allow them to offer an indefinite number of amendments. ... Experts on Senate procedural rules, from both parties, note that such a filibuster is possible. While reconciliation rules limit debate to 20 hours, senators lack similar constraints on amendments and could conceivably continue offering them until 60 members agree to cut the process off" (Bolton, 2/3).
The New York Times: Meanwhile, President Obama talked Tuesday about the future of health reform in the midst of a New Hampshire town hall meeting otherwise dominated by jobs issues. Obama "rejected the notion that the Massachusetts election doomed the health care overhaul. ... 'Well, no, it's not over. We just have to make sure that we move methodically and that the American people understand what's in the bill'" (Baker, 2/2).This is part of the Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.