Members of the Senate Finance Committee sparred with more than a dozen economists and health policy analystsand even among themselvesas both Democratic and Republican lawmakers sifted through possible ways to pay for a broad overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system.
The reforms we are planning are not cheap, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said at the hearing that was greeted by protesters. But Americans already spend $4.5 million on healthcare every minute of every day.
While the committee has sketched out a rough outline of ways to change how providers deliver care, members remain hard-pressed to find a way to finance it. Senators rifled through a number of different tax options, including ones that would tax tobacco and alcohol, and another that would cap the exclusion for employer-sponsored coverage. The latter pitted Baucus against Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, who pressed the chairman on how far he would be willing to go on changing the exclusion. Well then, what do you do? he asked.
Theres no single mechanism you can pass to get you all the way, said Robert Greenstein, executive director for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Youre going to have to put together an array of items on both the spending and revenue sides.