Health Insurance Reform: What’s Next?

Sen. Max Baucus

Sen. Max Baucus

With the Senate Finance Committee passing its version of Health Insurance Reform Tuesday on a 14-9 vote you may be asking yourself; what next? There are two bills in the Senate and three in the House that now need to be combined into individual bills for each house to vote on.

This means for example, that while the Baucus bill has had the most attention for the last couple of months, what they have come up with may never make it into the final legislation. The bill from the Senate Health Committee includes employer mandates and a public option to contain costs. Both Senate bills include assurances that everyone will be covered regardless of pre-existing conditions and that no one can be denied coverage.

There is a lot that needs to be reconciled before the full Senate gets to vote on a final package. Similarly, the same thing must happen in the House with the three bills there. If the Baucus bill were to end up as the final bill, essentially we would be mandating that tens of millions of people get health insurance with no controls or containment of costs (public option).

Speaker Pelosi has pledged that the final version coming from the House will have a public option. The House version would then need to be reconciled with whatever the Senate finally decides. If the Republicans and conservative Democrats choose to try to block the public option in the Senate with a filibuster there would be a strong possibility that the whole process could come to a crashing halt.

So while the Senate Finance Committee and Olympia Snowe have had the spotlight for the past several months, we are still not close to a final package for the President to sign. Once each house passes their version those bills would then need to be merged into final legislation for votes in oth the House and Senate. It is promising however for advocates for the inclusion of a public option in the final legislation that four of the five bills have one. I would expect that the final bill to emerge from both houses will include some form of public option.

Hopefully this all will happen before the end of the year. But even if Health Insurance reform were to pass today, it will be years before people who do not now have access to health insurance to finally get it.