Last week’s scheduled Congressional action on budget reconciliation was a typical half-full, half-empty result for the life and health insurance industries.
On the plus side, the life industry won a huge victory when the reconciliation package compromise included language facilitating permanent estate tax levies supported and intensely lobbied for by the industry.
But the problem for the health insurance industry was a provision in the bill that would allow for fast-track handling of health care reform.
The industry’s concern is that allowing for passage of healthcare reform in the Senate with only 51 votes–unlike the 60-vote, three-fifth majority required under regular order–would ease the ability of Democrats to include a “public” insurance option that the industry strongly opposes.
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Indeed, the provision prompted rare unanimous opposition by life, health and property-casualty insurance groups.
A public option would likely utilize the resources of Medicare and Medicaid to serve as competition to products offered by private health insurers, most of whom pay commissions to insurance agents to obtain business.
The House debated the $3.4 trillion spending plan on April 28 and both the House and Senate were to vote on it on April 29.
In reaction to the move by Democrats, industry officials voiced unanimous opposition.
For example, Robert Zirkelbach, director of strategic communications for America’s Health Insurance Plans, said, “We believe that health care reform should be bipartisan and comprehensive.”
He argued that “reconciliation would make it difficult to achieve bipartisan health care reform that addresses the core issues of cost, access, and quality together.”
“It is our hope that work continues along bipartisan lines for an agreement on health care that will stand the test of time,” said John Greene, vice president of Congressional affairs for the National Association of Health Underwriters.