What is Congress doing about health care?
The United States Congress has increased their workload based on the expected overhaul of the $2.5 trillion healthcare industry. Congress is making good on their promise to the President to attempt to pass legislation in each chamber before the August congressional recess takes place.
The first rumblings of action from the Senate committees took place on Wednesday — the Senate started debates on its own versions of the healthcare overhaul, meanwhile House of Representatives’ Democrats are pushing legislation and debate on their approach. The White House released information Wednesday that confimed that the total cost of the health care plan would be about $1 trillion over the next decade.
So what’s next for health care reform in the US Congress?
Three committees in the House began their work this week, with each committee taking on the major issues in the single bill that is under the jurisdiction of that committee. Sound complicated? It is — but this is a complicated issue that must be taken one step at a time.
The House Ways and Means Committee, the committee that has jurisdiction over Medicare and the tax revenue needed to pay for healthcare and healthcare reform, began its debates early Thursday morning.
The House Energy and Commerce committee, especially its chairman Henry Waxman (who has been the main force behind changes in the insurance industry to expand coverage to all Americans) was starting work right as of this writing, Thursday afternoon.
The House Education and Labor Committee, which has jurisdiction over employee health benefits (a major facet of this bill) opened its debate early on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, two committees in the Senate are working on two separate bills that are expected to be put before the full Senate as one conjoined bill.
The Senate Health committee, probably the most important committee to this bill, has approved its version of the bill without the support of any Republicans. Their controversial version of the bill sets up a government run insurance program that would compete directly with private insurers. Their bill also requires almost all employers to provide some sort of insurance plan for their workers or face stiff government penalties. This plan also requires individuals to buy their own insurance, with government subsidy if necessary, much like the government requires auto insurance.
The Senate Finance Committee, which claims jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid as well as the taxes needed to fund the bill, is debating methods for the government to meet the estimated $1 trillion (over ten years) cost of their plan. Unfortunately, the committee (which reportedly hoped to work on the legislation as early as next week) has reported that that work on legislation is doubtful.
So, what happens after these committees report to the larger bodies of Congress?
Each chamber of the Congress has high hopes to pass their own version of the legislation before the August recess, as President Obama requested. While Democrats control a majority of seats in both chambers, including a near filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, this control by one party does not really guarantee that individual members of Congress will vote the way their leadership wants, potentially delaying action until after the August recess.
When Congress returns to work in September, there are reports that a small group of like minded members of Congress will meet to iron out differences between the different version of the healthcare bill that have (hopefully) been passed in the House and Senate. After this meeting, each chamber of Congress will vote on the “compromise bill”.
Lastly, if this compromised bill passes, President Barack Obama would find the legislation on his desk for his signature, making the bill into law. Obama has set an October goal for signing the bill — and if Congress makes good on their promise to hash things out by October, this just may happen.