House Passes Flexible Spending Accounts, Medical Malpractice Bills
The House on Wednesday approved two separate health-related bills that would address unused funds in flexible savings accounts and would cap awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, the AP/St. Petersburg Times reports. Both bills -- as well as another bill concerning association health plans set for a vote Thursday -- previously have passed the House but have been blocked in the Senate. Under the FSA legislation (HR 4279), which the House approved on a 273-153 vote, employees with such accounts, which allow people to set aside part of their salaries tax-free for health care expenses, would be able to shift up to $500 in unused funds at the end of the year to the following year's account or into a health savings account. Currently, unused funds are forfeited. The bill's supporters say that requiring employees to give up unspent funds limits participation. Of 37 million eligible employees, only 7 million, or 18%, have FSAs. They add that the accounts' current structure "encourages a frenzy of end-of-year spending on eyeglasses and nonessential health procedures," the AP/Times reports. Some Democrats said that the bill would cost an estimated $8.4 billion in lost tax revenue over 10 years and that the vote on the bill, along with those on the other two health care-related bills, is "merely political theater," according to the AP/Times. "We're here today to debate issues that have already passed this House in bills that clearly won't make a dent in the problem of the uninsured," Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 5/13). The malpractice legislation (HR 4280) would cap at $250,000 noneconomic damage awards in medical malpractice suits (California Healthline, 5/12). The House approved that bill on a 229-197 vote (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 5/13). The third health-related bill (HR 4281) the House will consider this week would allow AHPs to avoid some state insurance regulations (California Healthline, 5/12). House Republicans said they plan to combine all three bills in a package before sending them to the Senate. If the Senate passes any of the measures, the House would be able to negotiate the full package of bills with the Senate in conference committee (Heil, CongressDaily, 5/13).
As expected, House Democrats led by Reps. John Dingell (Mich.) and Charles Rangel (N.Y.) on Wednesday introduced three previously submitted bills aimed at reducing the number of uninsured U.S. residents, CongressDaily reports (Rovner, CongressDaily, 5/12). Under the plan, states would receive $50 billion in federal funds to extend health coverage to parents of children enrolled in Medicaid or SCHIP programs; people between ages 55 and 64 would be able to purchase Medicare coverage, with the government paying up to 75% of the cost; and tax credits would be offered to small businesses and self-employed individuals to offset the cost of health insurance (California Healthline, 5/12). Senate Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), on Wednesday also introduced a measure that calls on Congress to pass legislation by the end of 2006 to "provide every individual in the United States with the opportunity to purchase health insurance coverage that is the same as, or better than, the health insurance coverage available to members of Congress, at the same or lower rates" (CongressDaily, 5/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.