House OKs broad health-care bill
Los Angeles Times
How the bills compareA comparison of the House and Senate health-care bills:
• Expands health-care coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Program from about 6 million children now enrolled to 11 million children.
• Triples spending, to $15 billion a year, in block grants to states for health insurance for children and, in some cases, adults who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance.
• Raises federal taxes on tobacco products. The tax on cigarettes would rise to 84 cents a pack from 39 cents.
• Reduces planned payments to health-maintenance organizations that offer private Medicare coverage by $157 billion over 10 years and increases planned payments to doctors who treat patients under traditional Medicare by $65 billion over 10 years.
• Increases subsidies to low-income Medicare beneficiaries for health care and stand-alone prescription-drug coverage by $50 billion over 10 years.
• Expands the children's insurance program from 6.6 million enrollees to 9.8 million enrollees, increasing its cost from $5 billion to an average $12 billion a year.
• Raises federal taxes on tobacco products. The tax on cigarettes would increase to $1 a pack.
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A divided House on Wednesday approved sweeping health-care legislation that would expand government benefits for children, seniors and doctors while boosting tobacco taxes and cutting Medicare payments to private insurance companies.
The largely party-line 225-204 vote came after hours of debate and parliamentary stalling tactics by Republicans. Cheers rang out in the House chamber when Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that the legislation had passed.
The bill — a wish list that expresses the pent-up desires of Democrats after more than a decade in the minority — would expand a popular health-insurance program mainly for children in working-poor families. It also would improve preventive benefits for Medicare recipients; provide low-income seniors more help, particularly with prescription costs; and roll back a scheduled 10 percent cut in Medicare fees for doctors.
The legislation faces a veto threat from President Bush and stiff opposition from GOP leaders, who have denounced it as a step toward government-run medicine. The Senate is expected to finish work on a compromise bill later this week that deals only with the children's program, not with Medicare. Republican and Democratic senators are trying to line up a veto-proof majority, because Bush also opposes that measure.
Created by a Republican Congress in 1997 and signed into law by President Clinton, the children's program insures about 6 million children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance. Still, between 8 million and 9 million children remain uninsured.
Washington contributes about $5 billion a year to the children's program, which covers most of the cost. States design their own coverage plans and most have opted to rely on private managed-care plans to insure children. But with the rising cost of health insurance, current funding levels can't sustain the program. Some states already have seen funding shortfalls.
The House bill would add $50 billion to the program over five years, for a total of $75 billion. That would allow it to cover about 5 million more children.
Many Republicans say that's too much money. They complain that program spending has increased rapidly because some states have been allowed to cover children in middle-class families and even adults.
"We want to reauthorize [the program]. That fact cannot be emphasized enough," said Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La. "But we cannot support this proposal. Democrats want to raise taxes ... to fund a massive expansion of government-controlled health care."
The representatives from Washington state voted along party lines; the six Democrats voted for the measure and the three Republicans voted against it. Republican Rep. Dave Reichert had been among the moderate Republicans pressured by Democrats to support the bill.
Reichert said he could not vote for an expansion of the children's program that would be funded partially by cuts to Medicare Advantage, a Republican-backed program that provides seniors with health care from private insurers.
"We were forced to make a choice between health care for children who wouldn't ordinarily be able to afford it or for those seniors who are finding themselves in the same boat," he said.
Washington has a greater stake in the bill than most states. For years it has covered proportionately more children than many states by paying the extra cost out of its pocket.
Medill News Service reporter Taryn Luntz contributed to this report.
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