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House Democrats Eye Changes to Senate Health Bill

Heading into a key White House meeting this afternoon, House leaders are eyeing several items that they would like in a final health care reform deal with the Senate, but it’s not clear whether their wish list will have much of an impact in the face of threats from conservative Senators to withdraw their support for the bill.

Among the items House Democrats leaving a meeting earlier today are hoping will survive the final package are greater subsidies for the middle class, a national health insurance exchange instead of state-based exchanges, a shift of the tax burden to the wealthy and removing the antitrust exemption enjoyed by insurance companies.

“The lifting of the antitrust exemption … is terribly important,— said House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who has previously ripped the Senate version of the health care bill. “There’s just no earthly reason for them to have it.—

And Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) called the national exchange “crucial— for ensuring consumer protections and lower prices. “States are not going to have the clout,— he said.

Pallone said that he could see a combination of the House and Senate tax provisions, with some tax falling on the wealthy and some version of the Senate’s tax on high-cost insurance plans. But support for the insurance tax is grudging at best in the House, despite support from President Barack Obama and the Senate.

“The biggest concern I have about the insurance tax is it’s passed on to consumers,— Pallone said.

Democrats have decided to ax a formal conference committee to work out the differences between the chambers’ two competing versions of a health care overhaul. Party leaders are hoping to complete their work by February.

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