Members of the Senate Finance Committee today voted 10-13 to kill a proposed amendment that could have protected health plans’ right to share views on legislation with enrollees.
All Democratic committee members voted against the amendment, which was proposed by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and all Republican members, including Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who is seen as a swing vote on health legislation, voted for it.
The Finance Committee is holding a “markup,” or bill drafting session, to review and revised the America’s Health Future Act bill, a health reform bill developed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently wrote to Medicare Advantage plans to forbid them from sending mailings to plan enrollees telling them that health reform bills now before Congress might disrupt their Medicare coverage.
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CMS officials suggested that the communications might violate privacy provisions or other provisions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
The proposed Kyl amendment would have stated that HIPAA places no limits on a health plans’ communications with enrollees about legislative matters.
“We all have a right of free speech,” Kyl said.
Free speech includes the right to be wrong, and Republicans believe that health plans’ warnings about the possible damage that bills such as the current version of the AHFA bill could do to the Medicare Advantage system are correct, Kyl said.
“We will never conclude work on this important legislation if the debate is chilled,” Kyl said.
Baucus countered that Medicare plan enrollees often think that the carriers are part of the government, and that the carriers intentionally foster that belief.