As Congress Picks Up Pace on Health Care Reform, What’s Next?

July 17, 2009

Congress has picked up the pace of its work on an overhaul of the $2.5 trillion healthcare industry as it tries to pass legislation in each chamber before the August congressional recess.

A first Senate committee acted Wednesday on its version of the healthcare overhaul and House of Representatives’ Democrats are moving forward on their approach, at a cost of about $1 trillion over a decade.

Three committees in the House began work this week, with each tackling the issues in the single bill that are under its jurisdiction.

  • The House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare and the taxes needed to pay for healthcare, began its debate Thursday. The House Education and Labor Committee, opened its debate Wednesday. It has jurisdiction over employee health benefits.

Two committees in the Senate are working on separate bills that are expected to be sent to the full Senate as one melded bill.

  • The Senate Health committee has approved its version of the bill with no Republican votes. The bill sets up a government-run insurance system to compete with private insurers, requires many employers to provide insurance for their workers or face penalties and requires individuals to buy their own insurance, with government subsidy if necessary.
  • The Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid and taxes, is discussing ways to meet the estimated $1 trillion cost of the plan. The committee had hoped to start work on the legislation this week or next but several lawmakers have said that is doubtful.

Each chamber hopes to pass its version of the legislation before the August recess.

While Democrats control a majority of seats in both chambers, this does not guarantee they will vote in concert with their leadership.

When Congress returns in September, a small group of lawmakers would meet to iron out differences between the versions that have passed the House and Senate. Then, each chamber will vote on the compromise legislation.

If it passes, it would be sent to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature into law — maybe by his October goal.

(Writing by Jackie Frank in Washington, editing by Donna Smith and Bill Trott)

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