Congressional passage of H.R. 1, the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, should open up new opportunities for insurers to sell health savings accounts to holders of high-deductible health insurance coverage as well as prescription drug plans to Medicare beneficiaries.
Because taxpayers can use tax-deductible HSA contributions to pay for long term care insurance and some kinds of temporary health insurance, passage of H.R. 1 also could help insurers sell those products to workers who enroll in the new defined contribution health plans.
Most defined contribution health plans combine high-deductible health insurance with some kind of personal health account.
The House voted to approve the final version of H.R. 1 by a 220-215 vote. The Senate voted 54-44 to approve the bill, which was originally sponsored by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
At press time, President Bush had not yet signed the bill but said he soon would do so.
Many members of Congress based their votes on H.R. 1 on nonpartisan considerations. In the Senate, for example, 11 Democrats crossed party lines to vote for the bill, and 9 Republicans crossed party lines to vote against it.
Two Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., did not vote on the bill.
Karen Ignagni, president of the AAHP-HIAA, Washington, a big health insurance industry trade group, welcomed congressional passage of H.R. 1.
“Americas health plans and health insurers applaud the bipartisan work of the House and the Senate, as well as the [Bush] administration, in bringing this important goal to the doorstep of reality,” Ignagni said. “This legislation, when signed by the president, will allow for a strong partnership between the government and private health insurers.”
Legislative analysts at AAHP-HIAA and other insurance industry trade groups, producer groups and lobbying firms will be poring over H.R. 1 and related documents for weeks. The final version of the bill itself, called a conference report, is 678 pages long.
Although the title of the bill suggests it deals mainly with Medicare drug benefits, bill provisions will affect everything from reimbursement levels for rural hospitals that treat Medicare patients to coverage for “nonmedical” home health care services provided by religious institutions.