KASSEBAUM-KENNEDY: Senate Rejects Enforcement Money
Voting largely along party lines, the Senate yesterday "narrowly rejected" a proposal "to supply money that the Clinton administration says was needed to make sure workers are getting ready access to health coverage," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The rejection came despite a General Accounting Office report that showed "some health insurers were ignoring the law." The administration asked for $16 million so the Health Care Financing Administration could "strengthen enforcement of the Kassebaum-Kennedy insurance-portability law, which went into effect January 1." Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), "in a last ditch effort" to salvage the bill, cut the request to $8 million, but even "that concession was not enough" to save the measure.
Crippling The Law
Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK), who authored the amendment to strike the HCFA funding measure "from a much larger interim spending bill," said the money was not necessary and was "requested to hire more bureaucrats." He said, "HCFA already has over 4,000 employees. I don't really think they need another 65." Kennedy responded that Nickles' amendment "centers on an effort to deny millions of people the right to portable, accessible health insurance." Kennedy also said that without the additional funds, the Kassebaum-Kennedy law would be "crippled."
Why More Money?
The Inquirer reports that HCFA chief Nancy-Ann Min DeParle said the requested money is "needed not only to hire and train additional people to enforce Kassebaum-Kennedy but also to set up a new tracking system to guard against fraud in federal health care programs." According to Kennedy, those who will be hit hardest by the "weak enforcement of the new law" are "workers with pre-existing health conditions or families with members suffering from disabilities." The Inquirer also reports that after the Senate killed the request, it "completed action on the underlying spending bill, then set it aside without actually voting to pass it until the House acts on its version" (Hess, 3/27).