House Republicans Offer Alternative Health Bill

After months of criticizing Democrats' plans to overhaul the nation's health care system, House Republicans are finally putting their own proposal on paper. They hope to offer it as an alternative when floor debate begins, possibly by the end of this week. The Republican's posted their bill online Tuesday night.

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Republicans have been harsh critics of Democratic plans to revamp the nation's health care system. But until now, Republicans have not offered a detailed proposal of their own. House Republicans finally put theirs in writing. It was posted online last night. This bill has no hope of becoming law, we're told, though it may be offered as an alternative when the House takes up the Democratic plan in the coming days. NPR's Julie Rovner has seen the Republican proposal and has this report.

JULIE ROVNER: In a lot of ways the House GOP health bill reads like a compilation of greatest hits from when Republicans ran the House from 1995 through 2006. It includes several bills that passed the chamber repeatedly during those years but never made it through the Senate. Florida Republican Congressman Adam Putnam conceded as much in describing the measure yesterday.

Representative ADAM PUTNAM (Republican, Florida): It is a much more simple approach to bringing down costs in health care, along the lines of ideas that we've been talking about for a long time.

ROVNER: Among the more familiar pieces of the GOP bill are provisions to cap damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. That, says House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence...

Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): Will end the era of junk lawsuits and defensive medicine.

ROVNER: Another perennial proposal calls for creation of something called association health plans, which Pence describes as...

Representative PENCE: Allowing new associations to be formed on a nationwide basis so that groups of businesses and individuals can experience the kind of savings that major corporations do.

ROVNER: Pence also made a point of highlighting what their 230-page bill won't do. It won't cut Medicare or raise taxes, a claim that Democrats can't make about their nearly 2,000 page measure.

Representative PENCE: With the creation of 111 new bureaucracies and programs, with the expansion or creation of 34 new entitlements and hundreds of billions of dollars in tax increases, this is a government takeover of health care. It's not what the American people want. And I think as they understand that, we believe it'll create an opportunity to offer a Republican alternative that focuses on lowering the cost of health insurance.

ROVNER: Democrats, however, like New Jersey's Rob Andrews, were not impressed with the Republicans' document.

Representative ROB ANDREWS (Democrat, New Jersey): They've had 14 years to come up with a plan and this is it? Their plan won't save American consumers money. It won't come anywhere close to covering every American. It will not reign in the abusive practices of the insurance industry. It will not save the treasury money or cut the deficit. It will not re-stimulate our economy. Other than that, it's probably a pretty good idea.

ROVNER: In particular, Democrats like Florida's Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were surprised that the GOP bill doesn't even address the problem of how to guarantee coverage for people with preexisting health conditions.

Representative DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (Democrat, Florida): I mean, that is the bare minimum that everyone in America essentially agrees should be part of any health care reform proposal.

ROVNER: And House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer used part of his weekly sit down with reporters to explain why Democrats have long opposed the idea of letting insurance be sold across state lines.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; House Majority Leader): We believe that would very possibly gut consumer protections and encourage a race to the bottom, where insurance companies would go to the states that required the least amount of protection and therefore the cheapest policies; and that everybody could go and purchase what they think is a cheap policy, but which in time of health care crisis, does not protect them adequately.

ROVNER: One thing the Republican bill does do is reach out to the party's base. It includes provisions Republicans tried and failed to get into the Democrats' bill, like stricter rules barring funding for abortion and illegal immigrants. It also includes a few things that are in the Democrats' bills, but that many Democrats object to. One example: new rules to allow the sale of generic copies of expensive biologic drugs that are seen as highly favorable to brand name drug makers.

Still, despite its lack of tax breaks or insurance mandates, Republican Congressman Putnam says he's confident the GOP bill would help more people get insurance coverage, primarily because it will help hold down health care costs.

Representative PUTNAM: Anything that you can do to improve health care affordability will improve health care accessibility.

ROVNER: The official word on just how the Republican bill would affect either affordability or accessibility is expected from the Congressional Budget Office in the coming days.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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