Pelosi Seeks to Make Health Reform Bill More Liberal

5215995When House leadership brings a final health care bill to the full House floor, it may be more liberal than moderate House Democrats expected, according to reports.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is planning to include in the bill a tax on wealthy Americans, as well as a more robust government-run health insurance plan (or "public option"), abandoning the compromises leaders in a key committee worked out with the moderate Blue Dog Democrats, according to Roll Call.

The original tri-committee health care bill introduced in the House would have raised taxes by 5.4 percent on taxpayers making more than $1 million a year, but some Democrats have opposed the measure.

The original House bill also included a public option that moderates in the House Energy and Commerce Committee made less robust. The Blue Dogs in the committee worked out a deal with committee leaders to make a public option negotiate payment rates with medical providers — instead of dictating them. This is intended to put a public option on a "level playing field" with private insurers. Pelosi, however, reportedly plans to peg public option payment rates to Medicare payment rates.

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Roll Call reports Pelosi wants to finish work on the bill this week so it can be scored by the Congressional Budget Office and move to the full House floor by mid-October. Making the public option more robust could potentially prompt a number of moderate Democrats to vote against the bill, but it would also save the government money, since Medicare generally pays cheaper rates than private insurers.

Pelosi's decisions may not only affect the legislation -- the Hill newspaper points out that health insurance stock prices have risen or fallen based on the legislative progress, particularly with respect to the public option. Shares of UnitedHealth Group, Aetna and HealthNet Inc. rose when the Senate Finance Committee introduced a bill without a public option.

The Senate Committee is currently in the process of amending its own bill and will consider at least three amendments to add a public option to it.

"Stocks fluctuate enormously depending on where the public option is," Daniel Alpert, managing director of Westwood Capital, told the Hill. "I don't believe that any stock that's at all connected to healthcare isn't rising or falling with this issue."

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