Senate Begins Work on Health Care Legislation, House Republicans Unveil Reform Plan

The partisanship on health care reform was on full display today as members of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee sparred at a televised hearing over a proposal written by Democrats that includes a public health insurance plan and a requirement for employers to provide health insurance.

On the other side, the Senate Finance Committee was also working hard to try and reach a more bipartisan compromise, but the ranking Republican on that committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said they may not reach a self-imposed deadline of July 4 to present their bill to the public.

Two bills are currently circulating in the Senate, one being the health reform plan sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who remains absent from the negotiations while he undergoes treatment for brain cancer. The Kennedy bill includes a health insurance plan that would be run by the government and compete with private insurance companies.

The other bill, which is still being drafted by Democrat and Republican leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, entails replacing the public option plan with a series of health insurance nonprofit organizations that would compete with the private sector.

Grassley said closed-door negotiations for a bipartisan health reform bill in the Senate Finance Committee hit a snag, delaying an important cost estimate of that bill. But he expressed optimism that the committee will be able to reach a bipartisan health care reform bill.

Grassley said President Obama and congressional Democrats need to work with Republicans, who say a public option plan, which Obama supports, would stifle all competition and weaken the private insurance industry.

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Republican lawmakers have maligned Democrats for lack of transparency in drafting their bills to recast health care in the United States.

Sen. Mike Enzi, the Wyoming Republican who is his party's ranking member on the health committee, said the stakes of health care reform are too high for Democrats to take over the process.

"This is the most comprehensive legislation that any of us will ever work on," Enzi said Wednesday. "It will fundamentally impact one-sixth of the nation's economy ... affect the health care of every American. ... It's too important not to take the time to get it right."

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House of Representatives today unveiled their own health plan.

The plan's 3½ page summary provided to reporters lacked details or a cost estimate, but Republican leaders promised those details would come later.

House GOP leaders said the goals of their plan are to make quality health care affordable and accessible, prevent Americans from being forced into a new government-run health care plan, let Americans who like their coverage keep it, ensure that medical decisions are made by patients and their doctors rather than by the government and improve Americans' lives through effective prevention, wellness and disease management programs.

Republican leaders also emphasized that their plan would cost less than the rival Democratic plan.

Instead of recasting the way health care is provided, mandating that individuals obtain health insurance and employers contribute to it, perhaps with a public insurance option, the House Republican plan seeks reform through the current system.

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