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HELP Committee Plans Hearings on Health Care Law to Counter House GOP

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

January 6, 2011 -- Senate Democrats are joining in an all-hands-on-deck effort to defend their embattled health care law with a series of hearings on the measure's benefits for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

The House Republicans' drive for repeal won't stop with the floor vote. They're expected to follow that up with a series of attacks on specific sections of the law in multiple oversight hearings in committees.

It's not clear yet what bills the GOP-controlled House might send to the Senate where they would likely die anyway. But Democrats fear public opinion about the law could suffer unless supporters inside and outside of Congress play offense as well.

Families USA, for example, an advocacy group that's been so supportive of the law it's filed briefs in court challenges, will feature a lineup of heavy hitters at its annual Washington conference later this month headlined by President Obama.

Senate Democrats also launched their own hearings to counter the heat on the House side. HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he'll convene the sessions during the next several months to highlight how the law benefits Americans. They'll probably include testimony from people who live outside the Beltway. In addition, administration officials will be asked to discuss implementation and experts will testify.

"Chairman Harkin wants to fight fiction with facts," said an aide, speaking on background.

The first hearing is set for Jan. 27 and will focus on the law's consumer protections, which include an end to insurance denials based on preexisting conditions and an end to lifetime and annual limits for insurance benefits.

Future topics are expected to include the new rules on medical payouts, premium rate review, benefits for small business owners, deficit reduction, quality of care, prevention and expanded access to coverage.

While the law's requirement that all Americans have insurance isn't popular, the consumer protections and the extension of family health insurance coverage to young adults under the age of 26 have found more favor with the public.

Meanwhile, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., issued a statement saying "we simply can't return to the days when insurance companies could hike rates without justification and had free passes to deny people the care covered under their policies."

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