Senate Sets Up Fall Health Care Battle With $3.5T Resolution

Inside Health Policy

August 11, 2021 9:21 am

The Senate Wednesday morning passed 50-49 a partisan $3.5 trillion budget resolution, setting the stage for Democrats to pass key health care priorities through the fast-track, reconciliation process in the fall, and refueling the debate over which policies should ultimately be included.

Two moderate Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Simena (AZ), say that while they backed the resolution in order to proceed with the budget talks, they do not support spending another $3.5 trillion, meaning the topline will shrink — and policies will have to be narrowed — by the time the package hits the floor.

“I have serious concerns about the grave consequences facing West Virginians and every American family if Congress decides to spend another $3.5 trillion,” Manchin said in a statement.

The resolution out Monday calls for extending the higher Affordable Care Act tax credits from the American Rescue Plan, adding Medicare dental, vision and hearing benefits, a fix to the Medicaid coverage gap, investing in home and community-based care, lowering the Medicare age, advancing health equity and letting Medicare negotiate drug prices. The Senate Finance Committee is tasked with crafting by Sept. 15 most of the health care priorities in the package and with finding the offsets, part of which are expected to come from the Chair Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) yet-to-be released drug pricing bill.

Already, a senior Democratic aide says that lowering the Medicare age is unlikely to be in the bill. Sources have also said that lawmakers are considering funding the dental benefit for just three years to hold down costs.

And a handful of moderate Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill have indicated they opposed drug price negotiation.

Still, consumer and beneficiary advocates are calling on lawmakers to go big.

“This is the moment for Congress,” said Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA. “They need to keep going big and bold for families to get the best health and health care they deserve, no matter their income or where they live. That means increasing affordability and closing coverage gaps so that no one has to choose between paying the rent and going to the doctor. We also have an extraordinary opportunity to lower the rising costs of prescription drugs and to ensure seniors can get their dental needs met the same way they do other health care needs,” he said.
 The Senate has opened the door to covering the 4 million Americans, including 800,000 women of reproductive age, living in states that did not expand Medicaid, advance health care equity and lower costs for families, Planned Parenthood’s Alexis McGill Johnson said. “We urge Congress to move swiftly–they will have Planned Parenthood supporters by their side.”

“Democrats met the moment today by taking a critical step forward to ensure that health care is a right, not a privilege,” said Leslie Dach, president of Protect Our Care. “The health care provisions in this budget resolution are a historic leap forward for lowering health care costs and improving care for millions of Americans. imperative that Congress enacts these provisions this fall to give Americans much-needed relief — it’s not only smart policy but it’s the right thing to do,” he said.