Health Care Bill Squeaks Through (Another) House Committee

July 31, 2009 ( - Congressional Democrats managed to squeeze another health care bill through committee Friday - but it was close.

The 31-28 vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee came along party lines, except for five of the so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats – Congressmen John Barrow (D-Georgia), Rick Boucher (D-Virginia), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Charlie Melancon (D-Louisiana), and Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) – who voted against the measure.

According to an  announcement on the House committee’s web site, “the bill will ensure that individuals, employers, and the federal government all share responsibility for a quality and affordable health care system”, basically by a “play or pay” system.   Employers who currently offer coverage will be able to continue offering coverage to workers, while those who don’t could choose to cover their workers or pay a penalty.   All individuals would be required to get coverage, either through their employer or a health care exchange (where individuals can “select from a menu of affordable, quality health care options: either a new public health insurance option or a plan offered by private insurers”), or pay a penalty.

Last Minute Changes

According to the Associated Press, as part of a last-minute series of changes, the committee agreed to cap increases in the cost of insurance sold under the bill (H.R. 3200, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act), and also to give the federal government authority to negotiate directly with drug companies for lower prices under Medicare.

“We have agreed we need to pull together,” said Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-California).  

However, the main expansion of coverage would not come until 2013.  

The Energy and Commerce Committee was the third of three House panels to act on the legislation (see  Health Care Reform Moving Again – Or Is It? ).   A vote in the full House is expected in September, after lawmakers return from a month-long vacation.

On a key vote that crossed party lines, abortion opponents failed in an attempt to bar insurance plans that offer abortion services from accepting customers with government subsidies. The vote was 31-27.   Instead, the panel agreed on a provision saying the government could neither require nor prohibit abortion services in insurance plans sold in the exchange.