House and Senate have appointed their respective members of the House/Senate Conference Committee (CC) to reconcile big differences between the health reform bills passed earlier this month in both chambers. For the uninitiated, CCs always have 6 members -- 3 House/3 Senate, two Ds and one R from each chamber. Final report must be signed by at least 2 members from each branch. Report then gets up or down vote in each chamber -- report is unamendable. If voted down by either branch, House and Senate leaders can form a new conference committee to try again -- I've never seen that happen in more than 25 years of watching.
Health Reform Conferees:
Senate Chair: Sen. Richard Moore (D-Bellingham, Blackstone, Douglas, Dudley, Hopedale, Mendon, Milford, Millville, Northbridge, Oxford, Southbridge, Sutton, Uxbridge, Webster) 617-722-1420
Sen. Therese Murray (D-Barnstable, Bourne, Falmouth, Kingston, Pembroke, Plymouth, Sandwich) 617-722-1481
Sen. Brian Lees (R-Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Grandby, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow, Springfield Wilbraham) 617-722-1291
House Chair: Rep. Patricia Walrath (D-Bolton, Hudson, Maynard, Stow) 617-722-2430
Rep. Ronald Mariano (D-Holbrook, Quincy, Weymouth) 617-722-2220
Rep. Robert Hargraves (R-Ayer, Dunstable, Groton, Pepperell, Townsend) 617-722-2430
A few observations: House conferees do not include the Ways and Means Chair Bob DeLeo, opting for Financial Services Chair Ron Mariano, while the Senate Conferees do include W&M Chair Therese Murray as vice chair. This indicates Murray's keener interest and history in the topic. Here's a switch -- Sen. Moore is lead defender of the Senate bill which does not include the employer assessment on businesses; and Sen. Moore is also the lead Senate sponsor of the Health Access and Affordability Act (HAAA) which included an employer assessment; Rep. Walrath will be lead defender of the House employer assessment and was not an original sponsor of the HAAA.
Timing -- they could reach a deal anytime, though most observers think this will go at least until mid-December, quite possibly into January, maybe into February or later, though that's considered unlikely. The key federal official -- Dennis Smith of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) -- asked the state to have a plan connected with the renewal of $700 million in federal dollars to them by January 15th. That's considered a soft, not a hard, deadline, though the Commonwealth is taking chances if they let this deadline slide too much. Check out my September 30 blog if you want to read the actual Smith letter.
Today's Boston Globe has an article about a Cape Cod restaurant owner who fears the employer assessment in the House reform bill. What's missing from the story is any attempt to nail down what the assessment would actually cost the owner beyond the phrase "hundreds of dollars a month".
Coming Attraction -- tomorrow morning at 10am the WBUR (90.9) program, On Point, will host a discussion on the Massachusetts health reform controversy. I may or may not be on it -- but please listen and call in if you are so motivated.