Wyden: Obama Gave the Cause of Health Care Reform a “Big Boost Last Night”

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) tells me he thinks President Obama gave the cause of health reform “a big boost last night, but though he supports Obama’s proposal, he does have a few concerns.

“I think it was very powerful and even more importantly very persuasive,” Wyden told me. “Health care is such a complicated issue, and intensely personal and the way the President outlined it, it really served as a trampoline–a jump–to the next part of the debate which is on the Senate Finance Committee on which I serve.”

On the specifics of the President’s plan, Wyden laid out a small handful of issues he’d like to see improved. Specifically, and foremost, Wyden says, “the area that i would like to be bolder in is in this area of creating a market through choice and competition.”Wyden believes the proposal wouldn’t allow nearly as many people as it should to choose to enter so-called health insurance exchanges, if they’re unhappy with the insurance their employers provide.

“Only people who are unemployed and uninsured and work at very small businesses would be allowed choice and competition in the exchanges,” Wyden noted “Anybody who works at a mid-size business who doesn’t like what they have, a government bureaucrat steps in and says you don’t have choices.

Separately, Wyden is concerned that the proposal–which Obama said would cost $900 billion–might not be able to provide generous enough subsidies for middle class uninsured people who will, under the terms of the plan, be required to buy health insurance.

“If you have a family making $65,000 a year and they’re paying $8300, $8400 for their premiums and copayments and deductibles…that’s going to be another area that you’re going to have to hone in on,” Wyden added.

But Wyden was perhaps most critical of the financing scheme–enshrined in the Baucus plan, and endorsed by Obama–to raise the funds needed to pay for the bill by taxing high-end private insurance plans. That measure sells politically–who doesn’t like the idea of taxing insurance companies?–but the incidence of the tax is likely to befall insurance consumers, including middle class Americans who Obama vowed not to increase taxes on.

“This financing system is not my first choice,” Wyden said. “We’re going to be working in the finance committee to address the concerns you describe.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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