Reports: Obamacare architect Baucus to step down at year’s end

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the medical device tax

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is reportedly planning to retire when his current term ends this year, according to multiple news outlets today, potentially removing a key opponent to the medical device industry’s push to repeal a 2.3% tax on U.S. medtech sales.

Baucus , as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, was 1 of the chief architects of Obamacare, helping to negotiate provisions including the medical device tax that’s expected to raise about $30 billion over a decade to help fund healthcare reform.

Although the U.S. House last year passed a measure that would repeal the tax, a companion bill was never taken up in the Senate. Another House repeal bid already has enough co-sponsors to pass through the lower chamber this year.

As the healthcare reform law was being negotiated back in the fall of 2009, Baucus proposed a “framework” version of the healthcare reform bill with a decade’s worth of "medical device manufacturers fee" of $4 billion a year beginning in 2010. The device industry was quick to protest, countering with a $15 billion proposal. But the final bill to pass out of the Senate finance panel included the $4-billion-a-year levy.

Ultimately the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, mandated the 2.3% tax on all U.S. revenues from sales of medical devices. Now, with the Baucus seat soon to be up for grabs (along with leadership of the Senate during the upcoming elections now that 6 senior Democrats are retiring) the medical device industry’s hopes for a more sympathetic hearing in the Upper Chamber hinge on the poll results next year.

With the pressure of re-election out of the way, Baucus is free to focus on reforming the tax system, along with term-limited Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), according to the Washington Post. The Big Sky State’s senior senator made headlines last week when he told Health & Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the implementation of the healthcare reform law "a huge train wreck."

The medtech lobby’s reaction from Washington to the Baucus news was restrained today.

"Sen. Baucus has a long and distinguished record of service in the U.S. Senate and to the people of Montana. We look forward to continuing to work with him on a number of important issues facing the medical technology industry including implementation of payment reforms included in the Affordable Care Act, efforts to address the budget deficit and corporate tax reform including repeal of the device tax," J.C. Scott, chief lobbyist at AdvaMed, told in an emailed statement.

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