House Panel Close To Health Care Bill Agreement

A key House committee on Friday neared an agreement on a health care plan that would cover almost all uninsured Americans and limit annual increases on insurance premiums.

Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee are working on a last-minute plan that would retain a strong public insurance option, even as the House prepared to recess for five weeks later this evening, NPR has confirmed.

Some Democrats also want to allow the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices under Medicare, NPR confirmed.

Earlier this week, committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) reached a deal with conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats that cut the cost of the health care overhaul, but party liberals balked because it raised premiums.

"We felt it was paid for on the backs of some of the people who can't afford health insurance now," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO).

Waxman said details of the plan would be available later Friday when the committee puts it to a vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the insurance industry is conducting a "shock and awe" campaign designed to defeat the bill, but she predicted the legislation would pass anyway. The overhaul will end the practice of capping the benefits seriously ill people, including cancer patients, now receive. It would also prevent companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Pelosi said Congress' break will give Americans an opportunity to examine the bill.

"The American people will have a chance to see what's in it for them, and our members will have a chance to discuss this with their constituents," she said.

When House lawmakers return to work in September, they will be ready to take up the legislation, said Pelosi.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats and Republicans were still trying to reach a compromise on health care legislation. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D) said his panel would not act before September. Senators will take a monthlong break beginning next week.

President Obama has said he expects to have a bill on his desk in the fall.

From NPR staff and wire service reports

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