Obama is August. Baucus is September. Obama is still talking about a government option. Baucus has a real plan. Obama is hope. Baucus is pragmatism.
The most important document so far in this year's health care debate hit cyberspace yesterday. It is not the text of Obama's super-hyped speech tonight. It is an 18-page "framework" from the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. It is "not a final product" and "does not include everything" but---unlike anything from the Obama administration or the four fully-drafted partisan bills to come out of Committee--it provides all the critical elements of a compromise that has a real chance of becoming law.
The two big highlights are the absence of an optional Medicare-like government health insurance program and the absence of an employer mandate to provide health insurance to their employees. What is left are health care exchanges, health care co-ops, insurance reforms, and a lot of tax provisions, including:
- A refundable tax credit for lower-income households to purchase insurance.
- A tax credit for small businesses that provide health insurance to employees.
- Substantial tax penalties for individuals who do not purchase insurance.
- Tax penalties for employers whose employees end up with publicly subsidized insurance.
- A new excise tax--imposed on insurance companies--on high-end health insurance plans.
- Annual "fees" on drug companies ($2.3 billion), medical device manufacturers ($4 billion), health insurers ($6 billion), and clinical laboratories ($750 million).