NU Online News Service, Jan. 22, 2004, 4:52 p.m. EST, Washington – Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., plans to introduce a bill that would require all employers to provide employees with health insurance that offers benefits similar to those provided for federal employees.[@@]

Speaking at a conference sponsored by Washington-based Families USA, a health care advocacy group, Kennedy said that an employer-based system is the most realistic way to achieve the goal of comprehensive and universal health insurance.

Kennedy said that under his bill, no employer would have to spend more than 12% of payroll for employee health insurance.

If health costs rise faster than a fair average of other costs, the government will cover the difference, he said.

“We will protect America’s ability to compete in the world, and we will keep wages and profits from being consumed by health care costs,” Kennedy said.

For individuals without employment-based coverage, he said, coverage will be available through the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program, with premiums based on ability to pay.

Kennedy said that for decades, the nation has required employers to contribute to Social Security and to Medicare. Employers, he said, also must pay a minimum wage and contribute to unemployment insurance.

“Now it is time to say that they also have an obligation to contribute to the cost of health insurance for their employees,” he said.

Kennedy said his legislation will have provisions aimed at reducing health care costs.

For example, he said, the use of new information technology, an effort to improve quality and a new emphasis on prevention will reduce health care costs for society as a whole.

Kennedy blasted President Bush’s health care agenda.

“The Bush administration has no program to control health care costs,” he charged. “Why not? Because it might upset the drug industry and the insurance industry.”