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Industry: Go Slow On Health

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Insurance industry producer groups are asking Congress to keep broad health reform efforts out of the budget reconciliation process.

The producer groups — the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, Washington; the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Washington; the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va.; and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Falls Church, Va.; and the Association of Health Insurance Advisors, a NAIFA affiliate — say the Obama administration and supporters in Congress ought to put any major health reform package through the usual congressional consideration process, and not try to push it through using an accelerated process.

The producer groups wrote the letter because Democrats in Congress are proposing to accept a House effort to include health reform in the budget reconciliation process.

Congress set up the budget reconciliation process to pass budget bills on a streamlined basis. The process protects budget legislation against “filibusters,” or the threat that senators will use endless debate to keep the legislation from getting to the Senate floor.

If a health reform package goes through the budget reconciliation process, it may need just 51 votes in the Senate to pass. If the package goes through the ordinary legislative process, it likely will need 60 votes in the Senate, giving moderate Republican senators more influence over the provisions.

“We, the undersigned organizations, representing health insurance advisors, agents, brokers, consultants and employee benefit specialists, are writing to strongly urge you to exclude health care reform from the budget reconciliation instructions,” the producer groups write in their letter. “An issue of this magnitude deserves its due consideration under regular order.”

The groups praise Congress and the administration for making health care reform a top priority this year.

“[We] agree that this legislation must be a bipartisan product with consultation and cooperation from the American public as well as stakeholders representing all sides,” the groups write. “However, we fear the spirit of bipartisan cooperation will be lost if regular order is put aside and the reconciliation process is utilized to fast track health care reform legislation. The future of the nation’s health care system deserves nothing less than an open, bipartisan and transparent debate by Congress.”

AHIA has put out a statement of its own suggesting that putting health reform in the budget reconciliation legislation would let Democrats push through legislation creating a government-run health plan for working-age U.S. residents.

AHIA “believes the private health insurance system is best equipped to provide options for families and businesses,” AHIA President Robelynn Abadie argues in the AHIA statement. “Promoters of the government-run plan option always state or imply that a government-run plan that eliminates the role of the agent will lower administrative costs. But administrative costs are not reduced simply by switching administrators — a government plan will not be less expensive unless services are reduced in some as yet ill-defined way.”