WASHINGTON-It has not taken long for critics to attack Sen. Max Baucus' newly released template for healthcare reform.
"Not very happy," "We have to scale back," "A real hit on middle-class families," and "Intolerable" have been just some of the bad reviews given to the eagerly awaited $856 billion package unveiled this week. But quick attacks were to be expected-so far the bill has received no Republican support. But what is shocking is its reception by Democrats. In fact, every one of the above quotes came from a Democratic senator, signaling that next week's Finance Committee debate on the bill promises to be a circus.
"The way it is now, there's no way I can vote for the Senate package," exclaimed Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who is worried that a proposed tax on high-value insurance plans would harm the middle-class.
Some Democrats do not like the lack of a public option in the Baucus plan-such government-run insurance proposals took a lot of heat during town hall meetings last month. But other Democratic concerns sounded like they were taken straight from Republican talking points. For example, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Medicaid spending requirements are too costly for states, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida doesn't like what proposed Medicare cuts will do to seniors, and both Democratic senators from Minnesota-Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken-have written a letter to Baucus arguing that the plan's $4 billion tax on medical devices "will seriously threaten thousands of American jobs and deter innovation."
Baucus' plan, which will be debated on by all members of the Senate Finance Committee next week, aims to reduce the uninsured ranks by 29 million during the next 10 years. The plan, which sets a 2013 start date for most of its key provisions, is the result of long negotiations between the committee's Gang of Six, which includes three Democrats and three Republicans. But those three Republicans-Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Olympia Snowe of Maine-are not supporting the bill so far.
The legislation creates state insurance exchanges, but companies would have to sell policies that meet a federal government standard. Subsidies would be available for individuals and families who cannot afford coverage.
To pay the cost for these subsidies and other measures, the legislation slaps a new 35 percent tax on high-cost insurance plans; introduces a series of fees and taxes on insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry and other healthcare providers; places penalties on those who refuse to purchase coverage; and makes $500 billion in cuts to Medicare.
Congressional conservatives are worried that the legislation's insurance mandate carries penalties that are too step -as much as $3,800 per family or $950 for an individual-for those who do not carry insurance.
Bob Adams with the League of American Voters says the plan overburdens middle- and low-income Americans. He adds that it gives the government unprecedented powers to both force individuals to buy insurance and to tell those individuals and families what kind of insurance they must buy.
"When people lose jobs they may be forced to make a decision between paying their mortgages or paying for their healthcare," Adams said. "I think most people want to keep a roof over their heads."
Adams predicts the proposal's new taxes actually will drive up costs by being passed on to the patients.
Conservatives also worry that the legislation's nonprofit co-ops model is really a thinly disguised government-run insurance plan that private companies would have trouble competing against.
"This plan has a lot of audacity but not much hope," Adams said.
Democrats are hoping that next week they can get more of their members singing the same healthcare tune.