Durbin Blocks Senate Bill To Provide Grants to States for High-Risk Health Insurance Pools
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has blocked a bill (S 288) that would reauthorize a grant program for state high-risk health insurance pools over concerns that the legislation would "hurt his home state," CQ Today reports (Carey, CQ Today, 9/14).
The legislation would reauthorize $15 million in grants for fiscal year 2005 to states that establish high-risk health insurance pools, which serve individuals who cannot obtain coverage because of a medical condition. States cap premiums for high-risk health insurance pools at a percentage of market premiums to maintain affordability for participants. In addition, the bill would authorize $50 million annually in operating grants through 2009 for states that currently have high-risk health insurance pools.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the legislation in February, and the House passed a similar bill (HR 3204) in July (California Healthline, 7/28).
The Senate bill would divide half of the funds among all states, provide one-fourth to states based on the number of uninsured residents that they have and provide one-fourth to states based on the number of residents that they have in high-risk health insurance pools. However, the House legislation -- which Durbin favors -- would divide one-third of the funds among all states, provide one-third to states based on the number of uninsured residents that they have and provide one-third to states based on the number of residents that they have in high-risk health insurance pools.
In February, Durbin placed a hold on the Senate bill over concerns that the funding formula benefited smaller states at the expense of larger ones, such as Illinois (CQ Today, 9/14). The Illinois Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan estimated that the state would receive $4.4 million annually under the Senate bill, compared with an average $7.4 million during the previous two years.
The Council for Affordable Health Insurance sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) that questioned Durbin for his hold on the Senate legislation. The letter said, "One senator should not stop needed help to states providing an important health insurance safety net to the sickest Americans" (Conrad, Chicago Sun-Times, 9/14). The letter also asked Frist to schedule a floor vote on the Senate bill (CQ Today, 9/14).
Durbin said, "I am only fighting for what is fair for Illinois and for states who struggle to help a large number of people with no health insurance" (Chicago Sun-Times, 9/14).