Details on Baucus’s New Mark

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The only Democrats in their seats when the Senate Finance Committee reconvened after lunch to return to the markup of the body’s health reform bill were Chairman Max Baucus and Jay Rockefeller. The latter had to be back on time to give his opening statement. Over the break, journalists, including me, were digging through the revised mark Baucus released today. (The new mark will still be subject to amendments, but this is the framework the committee is starting with.)

It’s clear Baucus heard some of the criticisms of original version and adjusted the mark accordingly. (He didn’t react to Democrats pushing for a public option. The state-based non-profit cooperatives are still the only alternative to private insurance in the bill.) But a good number of other amendments filed late last week are incorporated into the revised version. While a witness was explaining some of the changes, even Baucus felt bogged down by the details, telling her, “You don’t have to go through every line. Just hit the high points.” So here are some of those:

Affordability: Baucus lowers the amount low and middle-income Americans would have to contribute to insurance plans before receiving tax credits. This makes buying health insurance more affordable for some folks.

Cadillac plans: As I noted earlier, the tax on expensive health plans will not be tied directly to the Consumer Price Index. It will be indexed to the CPI plus one percent, which means fewer health care plans would be taxed. But the amount of the tax was raised from 35% to 40%.

Age bands: While insurers won’t be allowed to set premiums based on health status, they will be able to charge people based on their ages. Baucus tightened the variation to a 4 to 1 ratio. This essentially means the variation between older and younger Americans is less than in his previous version of the bill, although it’s still twice the variation based on age allowed in the House reform bill.

Tax penalties: Baucus lowers the maximum tax penalty from $3,800 to $1,900 for families earning more than 300 % of the federal poverty level who don’t have health insurance.

Catastrophic policies: Baucus allows Americans exempted from having to buy health insurance the opportunity to purchase catastrophic insurance with high deductibles and low premiums. Before this change, such policies were only available to Americans under 25.

More money to states for Medicaid: Baucus provides more federal funding to states who enroll significantly more people in Medicaid due to expansion of the program.

Changes in fees from special interests: Baucus increased the collective annual fee assessed on private insurers from $6 billion to $6.7 billion, but eliminated $750 million in annual fees that would have been paid by clinical labs.