Sen. Edward Kennedy To Introduce Legislation To Expand Health Coverage to More U.S. Residents
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Thursday is expected to announce legislation that would require some employers to offer health insurance to employees and create a National Health Benefits Program for people who do not qualify for employer-sponsored or current public health plans, the Boston Globe reports (Dembner, Boston Globe, 1/22). Under the plan, to be announced today at a speech at Families USA in Washington, D.C., employers with 50 or more employees would be required to provide health coverage to employees, with the federal government paying costs that exceed 12% of their payrolls, according to the AP/Las Vegas Sun. Employers with between five and 50 workers could either offer health coverage or contribute to the national program; employers with fewer than five employees could rely on the national program (Baldor, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/21). The plan would require most large employers and profitable smaller employers to pay 75% of the cost of employees' health plans (Boston Globe, 1/22).
The national health program would be modeled after the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, meaning that enrollees "would be able to choose from several private health plans" and pay premiums based on their income, with the federal government paying the remainder, the Washington Times reports (Fagan, Washington Times, 1/22). The plan would cost the federal government an estimated $100 billion annually. According to the Globe, aides for Kennedy said that cost would be "completely offset over a decade" because of other measures in the bill, including provisions to expand disease prevention programs; make administration in health plans and hospitals more efficient; allow prescription drugs to be imported from Canada and European Union nations; and authorize Medicare to negotiate prices directly with drug companies (Boston Globe, 1/22). According to the Census Bureau, about 61% of U.S. residents in 2002 had employer-sponsored health coverage; almost all businesses with more than 200 employees and 65% of small employers offer coverage (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/21).
In a draft of his speech, Kennedy says, "We have it in our power to make the fundamental human right to health care a reality for all Americans. I say let's get it done -- if not this year, then next year with a new Congress and a new administration elected with a mandate to get it done" (Boston Globe, 1/22). Kennedy spokesperson Jim Manley said that the Bush administration has "been AWOL when it comes to providing health care for the uninsured," adding that Bush's health proposals mentioned in his State of the Union address are too partisan and will not pass Congress, particularly in an election year (Washington Times, 1/22). In his speech Tuesday, Bush said Congress should pass legislation that would permit the formation of association health plans, give tax credits to help people purchase private health insurance, cap awards in medical malpractice lawsuits to help decrease insurance premiums and encourage people to purchase health savings accounts (California Healthline, 1/21).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.