Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has been more of a behind-the-curtains player on health care reform while he battles brain cancer, is reasserting his voice in the public debate as the Senate races to meet an August deadline.
His committee is circulating a 12-page “policy overview” on a bill to guarantee universal access to health care, create a public insurance option, and require individuals and employers to buy coverage. Produced by Democrats on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which Kennedy chairs, the paper offers the first comprehensive description of where the committee is headed on an overhaul bill.
“As we near the point of introducing legislation to achieve our vision, we issue this policy overview to lay out our priorities for the legislation,” according to the document obtained Friday by POLITICO.
The paper emerged a day after Kennedy published an op-ed in the Boston Globe on his “five major elements” for a health reform bill, and as more specific examples of what Kennedy is considering for a bill leaked to health care advocates. The leaked details suggest Kennedy is laying down a marker to the left of Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a moderate who is shepherding a separate bill through his committee.
But the 12-page committee paper outlines broad concepts that generally align with the ideas Baucus is considering. It was dated May 21 and titled “A New Vision for American Health Care: Strengthening What Works and Fixing What Doesn’t.”
“Over the last several months, HELP [Committee] Democrats have been working non-stop to develop a health reform bill that reduces cost, protects individual choices and assures affordable, high-quality healthcare for every American,” Kennedy spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement. “This internal document is a partial summary of their bipartisan efforts through that date, and does not represent final policy.”
The details are where Kennedy may diverge from Baucus. Liberal health care advocates expect the Massachusetts Democrat to attempt to pull Baucus to the left as they wade deeper into negotiations, and Kennedy’s heightened presence this week suggested to some that he was beginning that public offensive.
Indeed, in an email summary that began circulating this week, Kennedy was described as considering a public insurance option that would pay providers slightly more than Medicare rates – a structure that would draw fierce opposition from private insurers, Republicans and moderate Democrats.
He would also expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover individuals up to 26-years old – up from 18 – and provide insurance subsidies on a sliding scale to families with incomes 500 percent above the poverty line. Both proposals provide more generous coverage than what is under consideration in the Finance Committee.
Coley said the proposals were “legislative options that have been discussed and some have more credibility than others.”
Erin Shields, a spokeswoman for Baucus, issued a statement that did not directly address any of the Kennedy proposals that have begun circulating.
“Senator Baucus has been working very closely with Senator Kennedy and the HELP Committee to pass health reform this year,” the statement said. “He is very pleased that both committees are both on track to consider health reform legislation in June and looks forward to continuing to work with his colleagues on the HELP Committee as this process moves forward.”