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Cost of U.S. Health-Care Overhaul Sparks Protest from Democrats

Posted on 10 Jul 2009

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Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are trying to quell a rebellion over the cost of health-care legislation by dozens of members of their own party.

In a letter yesterday to party leaders, the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of self-proclaimed fiscally conservative Democrats, raised “strong reservations” about the latest draft of a bill they said would fail to sufficiently reduce health- care costs and may hurt doctors and hospitals. The leaders postponed today’s scheduled release of the draft, according to a senior Democratic aide.

The bill “fails to include adequate structural changes that will succeed in lowering costs and increasing value,” read the letter signed by 40 coalition members.

The potential defection of that many Democratic lawmakers posed a serious challenge because to pass the legislation in the House, Democrats would need Republican support, which is considered unlikely, the aide said.

The objections from Blue Dog Democrats will require the legislation’s authors to make changes to have a chance to pass the measure, said the aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Democrats hold a 255-178 advantage over Republicans in the House.

The momentum for the revamp of the health-care system has slowed with disagreements hardening in Congress over how to finance the plan. Senate lawmakers from both parties have urged leaders to abandon their goal of bringing the legislation to a vote in the next month. They’re clashing over issues such as whether to impose a surtax on wealthy Americans and whether to tax employee-provided health benefits.

More Aggressive Cuts

In their letter yesterday, the Blue Dog Democrats said cost-cutting should be “much more aggressive” in the legislation, which has had a price tag of at least $1 trillion and is President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority.

Referring to Obama’s push to extend coverage to the estimated 46 million uninsured Americans, the letter said, “We cannot ‘add’ new consumers to a broken system.”

The lawmakers also said a planned government-sponsored insurance program, the so-called public option, should reimburse doctors at market rates to ensure continued high quality of care.

A public-option that resembled the government’s Medicare program for elderly Americans “would negatively impact hospitals, doctors and patients,” the letter said.

‘Seriously Weaken’ Hospitals

“Using Medicare’s below-market rates,” which are sometimes 20 percent to 30 percent below what private insurers pay, “would seriously weaken the financial stability of our local hospitals and doctors,” the lawmakers said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina and other party leaders met with Representatives John Tanner of Tennessee, Dennis Cardoza of California and other members of the Blue Dog Coalition yesterday to try to preserve support for the plan to create the publicly run insurance program to compete with private coverage providers.

House Republicans have banded together this year to vote almost unanimously against most major pieces of legislation. Their leaders have denounced the health-care overhaul as a prescription for destabilizing private insurance and denying Americans choice of doctors.

In their letter, the Blue Dog Democrats also urged caution about requiring small businesses to provide employees with health-care coverage.

“Small business owners and their employees lack coverage because of high and unstable costs -- not because of an unwillingness to provide or purchase it,” the lawmakers said. “We cannot support a bill that further exacerbates the challenges faced by small businesses.”