Legislation Proposed To Expand Health Coverage Nationwide
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Wednesday announced plans to introduce legislation early next year that would guarantee health insurance for all U.S. residents, the Los Angeles Times reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 12/14). Under the legislation, private health insurers would provide coverage to individuals directly, rather than through employers, and employers initially would shift funds currently used to pay for coverage to employee wages (CQ HealthBeat, 12/13).
Over time, employers would to pay the federal government a health insurance contribution. The legislation would require individuals to use the funds contributed by employers to purchase through state purchasing pools private health insurance, which would provide coverage at the same level as the BlueCross BlueShield Standard Plan offered to federal employees.
Individuals would not have to pay higher income taxes as a result of the funds they receive from their employers (Los Angeles Times, 12/14). State "Health Help Agencies" would provide information and advice to help individuals purchase private health insurance (CQ HealthBeat, 12/13).
Uninsured individuals also would have to purchase health insurance, but the federal government would fully subsidize premiums for low-income individuals and partially subsidize premiums for middle-income individuals (Los Angeles Times, 12/14). Individuals who fail to purchase health insurance would have to pay fines (CQ HealthBeat, 12/13).
The federal government would collect premiums paid by individuals and contributions from employers through the tax system and distribute the funds to health insurers. The legislation would apply to individuals until they reach retirement and would not apply to Medicare beneficiaries (Los Angeles Times, 12/14).
In addition, the legislation would not apply to individuals who receive health insurance through the U.S. military (Daly, AP/Washington Examiner, 12/13).
According to the Times, the legislation would "guarantee coverage for all, including nearly 47 million uninsured -- a Democratic objective" -- and would also "limit employers' exposure to relentless cost increases and encourage workers to shop for cost-effective insurance plans -- GOP goals." However, the legislation is "complex" and "not likely to be easily enacted," and most experts "believe major health care reform will only be possible with the support of a president elected on a promise to tackle the problem," the Times reports.
Wyden said, "The last time America tried to fix health care was in 1993 and 1994 -- since then, employer-based coverage has been melting away like a Popsicle in the sun. Business leaders in 1994 who said, 'We can't afford to reform health care,' are now saying, 'We can't afford not to reform health care.'"
Safeway Supermarkets CEO Steve Burd, who joined Wyden at a news conference to announce the legislation, said, "Without some dramatic change, not only will the uninsured population continue to grow, but the American worker will become less competitive" (Los Angeles Times, 12/14).
Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern, who also joined Wyden at the news conference, said that the legislation "has a real chance of having a successful conclusion" (CQ HealthBeat, 12/13).
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, called the legislation "a first step" and "a work in progress," adding, "We are very supportive of the goals Sen. Wyden has established" (Los Angeles Times, 12/14).
Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, said, "This is something that needs to be prioritized by the country, and we're going to be a participant" (CQ HealthBeat, 12/13).