Senate HELP Committee Releases Draft Health Care Reform Legislation
On Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee released a draft of its health reform proposal, which would require everyone to be insured, reorganize the insurance industry and help make health care more accessible for low-income U.S. residents, the AP/Boston Globe reports.
According to the AP/Globe, the HELP bill and one circulated by House Democrats on Tuesday were "largely identical" (Espo, AP/Boston Globe, 6/10).
Under the 615-page plan, U.S. residents could purchase insurance through a federally regulated exchange, with subsidies provided for families with incomes below 500% of the federal poverty level. The bill also would expand Medicaid (Budoff Brown, Politico, 6/9).
Insurers would not be allowed to turn down applicants because of health status or limit variations in premiums based on age or health habits (Wayne, CQ Today, 6/9).
Other restrictions would apply to insurers, such as possible limits on profits.
The legislation also includes a long-term care plan that would allow people with disabilities to pay for home- and community-care services in order to avoid moving into more costly nursing homes. Enrollees in the program would be required to pay premiums for five years, during their working years, before they could begin receiving benefits (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Google, 6/10).
The bill did not include information on how much the overhaul plan would cost or how it would be financed.
Public Plan, Employer Mandate
Although the HELP Committee last week expressed its support for a public insurance plan and a mandate that employers provide insurance for workers, details for both provisions were left out of the bill released on Tuesday.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), who has led committee efforts in the absence of HELP Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), said, "There are some gaps. But there are no gaps in our determination, my determination and that of my colleagues to have a public option."
Dodd added, "I left those areas open for discussion not because they are open for some sort of decision on whether or not we ought to move in that direction," adding that he instead wanted Republican input on the provision (Politico, 6/9).
The draft does indicate that a public option would allow people to buy coverage for $65 a month, according to AP/Google (AP/Google, 6/10).
The panel will mark up the legislation starting June 16, with the goal of having a final version to the chamber floor in July (Pear, New York Times, 6/10).
Kennedy said, "Our goal is to strengthen what works and fix what doesn't" (Haberkorn, Washington Times, 6/10). He added, "Much work remains, and the coming days and weeks won't be easy," but "we have a unique opportunity to give the American people, at long last, the health care they need and deserve" (Smith, Reuters, 6/9).
Senate Finance Committee
The Senate Finance Committee, which also plans to bring a reform bill to the Senate floor in July, discussed the possibility of changing the tax-exempt status of employer-provided health insurance in order to help fund health reform.
Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said that only those employer plans whose benefits far exceed the basic plan provided to federal employees should be taxed.
The Joint Committee on Taxation calculated that taxing these benefits would raise about $418.5 billion over 10 years.
Baucus said, "When it's all said and done, it won't affect many people." He noted that generous union-provided health benefits could be "grandfathered" in under a collective-bargaining agreement, allowing them to be tax-free until new contracts are signed.Baucus said he plans to release his overhaul bill next week, noting that he plans for cost savings and revenue increases to fully cover the plan's $1.2 trillion estimated cost (Rubin, CQ Today, 6/9). 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.