Strong voter push-back over current proposals, cost concerns, the lack of political consensus and the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., are likely to lead to Congress ultimately deciding to fall back to “health reform-lite” legislation, according to industry lobbyists and security analysts.
Whether and when Congress will be able to pass legislation reshaping the healthcare delivery system is the dominant question as legislators return to work Sept. 8.
Besides the continued role of agents in delivering healthcare, its cost, the timing of legislation, its impact on small business and whether it will include a public option are just some of the issues that remain to be decided.
“The agent/broker community shares many of these concerns, and continues to press for preserving access to the valuable services of our professional community,” says Janet Trautwein, CEO of the National Association of Health Underwriters.
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National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors/AHIA officials call health reform the “hottest of the hot issues” Congress will take up in the fall.
In addition, the long term care industry remains deeply concerned over a provision the industry believes would create an unfunded LTC entitlement.
The provision, called the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, or CLASS Act, is contained in both the bill reported out by the Help, Education, Labor and Education Committee in the Senate and the bills produced by the so-called “tri-committees” in the House.
Regarding overall healthcare reform, the “jury is still out” as to whether Senate Finance Committee will meet its self-imposed deadline of Sept. 15 and produce a bipartisan bill,” according to Trautwein.
“But the Democrats’ continued reference to going a partisan reconciliation process route is likely to hinder efforts at consensus,” she says.
The other two bills, the HELP Committee and the House tri-committee bills, were produced without Republican support. The HELP Committee bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, while the bill produced by the three House committees remains to be reconciled.
The death of Sen. Kennedy will be a key factor, officials say.
“What he brought to the table was the ability to make compromises and get Democrats in his caucus to go along with it,” says Trautwein. “They may not have liked it, but they’d do it.”
NAHU’s concern, Trautwein says, is that “the passing of Senator Kennedy may encourage some to act quickly in a very partisan fashion.”
However, Kennedy’s true legacy “was his ability to bring stakeholders together and reach across the aisle in a very bipartisan fashion,” she notes.
In a note to investors, analysts at Washington Analysis, which advises brokerages and hedge funds, supported Trautwein’s analysis.
They say they don’t believe Kennedy’s death will move the ultimate bill to the left, that is, to a mandated “public option.”