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Blue Dogs’ Objections Could Delay Release of Health Care Bill

Fresh objections from the Blue Dog Coalition will likely delay the release of Democrats’ health care legislation Friday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said late Thursday.”There’s still some additional work that needs to be done,” Hoyer said.Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the chairman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs’ health care task force, warned leadership in a Thursday night meeting that lasted more than two hours that the vast majority of the group could not support the bill unless major changes were made.Forty Blue Dogs signed a two-page letter communicating a series of demands ranging from more aid to rural areas to more cost-cutting to protections for small businesses.But the fiercest opposition is to a public plan option based on existing Medicare reimbursement rates.“We cannot accept a public option based on Medicare rates,— Ross said. Ross said regional disparities in Medicare would have to be fixed for Blue Dogs to consider such an idea, because payment levels are too low in many parts of the country.“We are losing doctors,— he said of his own hometown, which used to have six doctors and now has three.“We could give people a real shiny insurance card, but that’s not going to matter if they don’t have access,— Ross said.Ross said that the Blue Dogs would meet with the three committee chairmen writing the bill on Friday to try to address some of their demands. Ross said some concerns could be addressed before the bill goes to markup and others could potentially be dealt with via amendments in committee.He said he also laid out the Blue Dog objections in a meeting Wednesday morning at the White House with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.“He knows that we’ve got serious concerns with the bill that was going to be dropped tomorrow. … We could not support the current bill.—Meanwhile, some tweaks to the package were already being made to try and accommodate the fiscally conservative bloc. Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said the legislation would be rewritten to set up commissions that would set reimbursement rates for hospitals, based on a system already in use in Maryland. Under the plan, every customer of each hospital would pay the same rates regardless of their insurance plan, and the commissions could ensure that hospitals don’t close.“It’s what the Blue Dogs want, so we’ll give them what they want,— Stark said. “I think it’s a great idea.—And despite the Blue Dog objections, Hoyer, often an ally of the group, noted that the Blue Dog leadership is working to reach a deal.”Everybody in that room thinks we ought to pass health care reform. I think I speak for everybody in that room. And they all articulated that. Now, you get beyond that, obviously, then you get into the details.”