Oct. 12, 2009 -- As the Senate Finance Committee prepares to vote Tuesday on its version of health care legislation, White House officials say they have momentum as the narrative shifts from whether a bill will pass to what it will contain.
But, even as conservative commentators admit that health care overhaul will happen, lobbyists are leading a final push to sidetrack the legislation.
A new report by health industry lobbyists at America's Health Insurance Plans, prepared by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, concludes that health coverage costs for families would increase by 111 percent in the next 10 years under provisions proposed by the Senate Finance Committee. That means costs would jump, on average, to $25,900 for families by 2019, and to $9,700 for individuals.
But some experts say the report is flawed in many ways, pointing out that it does not take into account federal subsidies for lower-income families to help them pay for coverage. The report itself acknowledges that it doesn't account for the advantages the legislation hopes to achieve from an excise tax imposed on employers who offer high-cost insurance plans, saying that although "we expect employers to respond to the tax by restructuring their benefits to avoid it," the report does not factor in those hypothetical responses.
The White House assailed the report as inaccurate and biased.
"This is a self-serving report paid for by opponents of health reform and was prepared by a firm that specializes in tax shelters," said Linda Douglas, spokeswoman for the White House Office of Health Care Reform. "It ignores all cost savings in the bill, such as tax credits, and ignores the conclusion of nonpartisan government analysts, who found that it will cover 94 percent of Americans and help to reduce the deficit."
The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office last week gave the committee's bill something of a green light, saying that the legislation, devised mainly by Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., would cover 29 million uninsured Americans, ultimately achieving 94 percent coverage and costing a total of $829 billion over 10 years. President Barack Obama had set $900 billion as the acceptable threshold for health care legislation costs.
The White House desperately wants to be able to call the bill bipartisan and is doing everything it can to secure the support of Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, thought to be the only Republican on the Senate Finance Committee who might vote for Baucus' legislation.
Having struggled to get any current Republican officials to support Obama's reform efforts, the White House is now touting former GOP officials who are pushing for bipartisan compromise.
Dr. Louis Sullivan, former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush, told ABC News that the Senate Finance Committee's bill is more bipartisan, compared to the four other Democratic bills circulating in Congress.
"We need to come together towards the middle and this is what the Baucus bill represents," Sullivan said. "It represents a compromise that has elements that, indeed, I think all individuals, Republicans and Democrats, can support."
Even though he doesn't agree with all the provisions in the bill, Sullivan said it's time for Congress to push health care overhaul and pass a bill.
"We're not going to get a perfect answer," he said. "Our system is too large and too complex to accomplish that in one action, but we need to have a beginning. I'm more concerned about not having the beginning of reform of our health care system. These concerns I have I think can be addressed in due course, but we need to really come together and enact health care reform now."
White House Push for Bipartisanship
Obama has been touting such sentiments from individuals such as Sullivan, and former Senate GOP majority leaders Bob Dole, R-Kansas, and Bill Frist., R-Tenn., who have spoken in favor of bipartisan compromise more broadly.
"What's remarkable is not that we've had a spirited debate about health insurance reform, but the unprecedented consensus that has come together behind it," the president said in his weekly address. "This consensus encompasses everyone from doctors and nurses to hospitals and drug manufacturers. Still, there are some in Washington today who seem determined to play the same old partisan politics, working to score political points, even if it means burdening this country with an unsustainable status quo."
Dole said he doesn't agree wholeheartedly with Obama or congressional Democrats but stressed that action needed to be taken on health care.
"Congress could be close to passing comprehensive health reform," Dole said at a health care summit in Kansas City last week. "The American people have waited decades and, if this moment passes us by, it may be decades more before there is another opportunity. The current approaches suggested by the Congress are far from perfect, but they do provide some basis on which Congress can move forward and we urge the joint leadership to get together for America's sake."
Frist, himself a cardiac surgeon, told Time Magazine that if he were in still in the Senate, he would vote for the bill, even if he faced backlash.
"As leader, I would take heat for it," he said. "That's what leadership is all about."
The Democratic National Committee unveiled a TV ad featuring Dole and Frist endorsing health care overhaul but the former Kansas senator said the ad went too far. Instead of pushing for bipartisan compromise, the ad suggested that was bashing Republicans.
"I wish they hadn't done it," Dole said of the DNC ad in an interview Sunday with ABC News, adding that the ad's depiction of current GOP leaders "is just not my view.
"The ad doesn't reflect what I was trying to do," he said. "I just didn't think it was fair, when I've tried to be helpful in encouraging a bipartisan solution, for the DNC to run an ad that I interpreted and I know others did as a backhanded comment about Republicans."
Dole complained to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who had DNC pull the ad.
ABC News' Huma Khan contributed to this report.