Senate committee leader proposes health care reform bill 

Sep 17

The last legislative committee to propose a health care reform bill now has a working draft after Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., introduced legislation Wednesday afternoon.

The Finance Committee will discuss the bill and make changes leading up to a committee vote next week. If passed, the bill will move to the Senate floor, where senators must compromise and combine the Finance Committee and Health, Education and Labor Committee proposed bills.

"The cost of America's broken health care system has stretched families, businesses and the economy too far for too long," Baucus said in a prepared statement. "We worked to build a common-sense package that ensures quality, affordable coverage and doesn't add a dime to the deficit."

The bill would cost about $856 billion over 10 years, according to Finance Committee aides. And while the bill's cost would not add to the deficit, the money would come from other annual fees that have caught some senators' attention.

Sens. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., Evan Bayh, D-Ind., Amy Klobuchar, R-Minn., and Al Franken, D-Minn., wrote a letter to Baucus on Tuesday stating their concern about a $4 billion annual flat fee on the medical devices manufacturing sector. The fees would be allocated across the industry according to companies' market shares, starting in 2010.

Indiana is the third largest manufacturer of medical devices and directly employs about 18,500 Hoosiers, according to the Indiana Medical Device Manufacturers Association.

"This is the wrong economy and the wrong time to put taxes on businesses that have the potential to lead the country out of the recession," said Bill Kolter, corporate vice president of public affairs for Warsaw, Ind.-based Biomet Inc. "It's going to make it more expensive for us to create innovative devices that can have life-changing benefits."

The fees would cost the company about $13,000 per employee, Kolter said, and could potentially stifle hiring. It is not clear if layoffs would be necessary, he said.

"We're not predicting at this point what we will do, but it's certainly something that we have to look at very seriously," Kolter said. "We're supportive of rational health care reform that helps improve access, expand coverage, improve quality and control costs. This just increases cost."

The Finance Committee bill differs from House proposals and the Senate Health, Labor and Education proposal by including a nonprofit co-op in place of a general public option. The finance bill also specifically states that illegal immigrants will not be included in health care reform.

Ian McFadden, president and CEO of Methodist Hospitals, said the Senate's recent proposal is another step toward a solution. However, McFadden said there will be more discussion and debate before a final proposal is reached.

"Methodist Hospitals, a safety net hospital, has always served its mission to provide quality, compassionate health services to all those in need," McFadden said in an e-mail statement. "We urge Congress to recognize the role of safety net providers and the importance of providing the funding and resources necessary to continue to provide quality health care services to every individual regardless of their ability to pay."

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