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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

As Battle Brews, House Health Bill Gains Allies

WASHINGTON (CN) - The House health bill got a huge boost Thursday when the 40-million-member AARP threw its weight behind the bill just hours after the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis highly critical of the Republican-backed alternative, which compared poorly on reducing the deficit and the number of uninsured. Both events could play into the battle set for this Saturday, when the House bill is scheduled for a floor vote.

"Today's endorsement marks the first time in this legislative battle that AARP has put its full weight behind a comprehensive health care reform package," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a released statement.

AARP will now begin a calling and advertising campaign, and plans to send pamphlets to its nearly 40 million members to garner support for the legislation.

"We cannot continue to let insurers price older Americans out of the market, just as we cannot stand idle while millions of seniors are forced to choose between their groceries and their prescriptions," AARP CEO Barry Rand said in a released statement.

As Christian Republicans gathered in Washington to demonstrate against the Democratic plan for health care reform, while echoing the punditry of the Fox network, more balanced commentators focused on the budget office's scathing analysis of the Republican alternative.

Ezra Klein from the Washington Post wrote, "The only thing worse than having no health care reform plan is releasing a bad one, getting thrashed by CBO and making the House Democrats look good in comparison."

Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Dennis G. Smith seemed to look at the report through a different lens. He disagreed that the CBO report hurts the Republican health bill.

The analysis show that the Republican plan would extend coverage to 3 million more Americans, but would maintain at 83 percent the proportion of nonelderly insured U.S. residents until 2019, as compared to the Democratic plan, which would grow this number to 96 percent in extending insurance to 36 million people on the same timeline.

While the budget office predicted that the Republican bill would reduce the federal deficit by $68 billion between 2010 and 2019, it said the bill put forward by the Democratic-led Congress would reduce the deficit by much more, at $104 billion.

Instead of pointing to the deficit and the number of uninsured, which the CBO analyzed, the Heritage Foundation fellow focused on the increase in taxes and the growing federal involvement in the health care industry.

"That isn't what the typical American family looking for," Smith said, pointing to tax increases.

"I think the Republican bill at least starts down the right path," Smith said when asked to compare the two bills. He said the Republican bill starts off by lowering health costs, and explained that this will later help to insure more people.

But this increased coverage as a result of lower health costs is already accounted for in the CBO analysis.

The Democratic bill would significantly extend Medicaid eligibility and grant tax credits to small employers, but would cover increased costs by taxing high-income families, slowing the growth in Medicare payments, imposing penalties on employers and individuals that don't buy insurance, and slapping a $34 billion fee increase from states between 2010 and 2019.

The Republican bill would not raise taxes or state fees directly. It would reduce doctor liability and increase fraud and abuse investigations, but is much more limited than the bill on the House floor now.

The endorsement of the Democratic plan by the AARP is especially powerful, on an issue that especially concerns the elderly who tend to need more help on health matters than the more robust holders of youth. The AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people over the age of 50.

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