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By Dominique Donaho

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) just released a somewhat official health reform plan for 2009.  For all its 98 daunting pages, it is a rather nonspecific glimpse into the future of what may be done on the national scale.  About 25 of those pages (the introduction and the last chapter) list problem areas in health care and its overbearing costs with very vague proposals for reform.  And for the most part, it is also conveniently plagiaristic of the Obama Health Care Plan.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Baucus will likely have an influential role in national health care reform if it is to happen at all; that particular committee has jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid.  Under the Call to Action, Medicare would be made available to those over 55 (10 years earlier than the current requirement) and Medicaid to all beneath the poverty baseline.

For everyone between, the Call to Action sets up a Health Insurance Exchange, which appears similar to the current Massachusetts plan.  Participating employers are required to enroll in exchange for compliance with oversight by an Indpendent Health Coverage Council.  Additionally, a public health plan similar to Medicare would be set up.  Baucus claims the Exchange would become a self-sustaining entity “within a few years.”

Perhaps the most glaring divergence from the Obama Health Plan is Baucus’ proposal for a universal mandate for all individuals.  Whether this is acceptable might depend on the effectiveness of these expanded programs (Medicare and Medicaid, but also SCHIP to all children below 250% of the poverty level) reaching those who would not be able to afford insurance in the first place.

Overall, I would characterize Baucus’ Call to Action as a call to awareness.  The proposals made are largely recycled or vague, but it is at least a small, semi-formal step in a new direction.

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