As insurance groups and employer groups pressed for changes in the House health bill, the House Rules Committee agreed to send the bill to the floor.
Members of the committee voted 6-4, along party lines, to schedule 4 hours of floor debate on H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act bill, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday.
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H.R. 3962 would require health insurers to sell coverage on a guaranteed issue, mostly community-rated basis and attempt to improve the quality of the risk pool by requiring most people to have health coverage. Individuals who failed either to meet the proposed coverage ownership requirements or pay penalties could go to prison for up to 5 years.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., will get a chance to offer an AHCAA bill amendment that would prohibit private insurers from using federal funds to pay for abortions. The amendment also would prohibit health plans sold through the proposed health insurance exchange system from paying for abortions.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, was given time to present an alternative version of H.R. 3962 that relies on mechanisms such as risk pools, reinsurance programs and association health plans to reform the health insurance market.
House leaders created H.R. 3962 by combining separate health bills produced by the House Energy and Commerce, Education and Labor, and Ways and Means committees. The Rules Committee decides which bills go to the House floor and how the bills will be considered.
There are 4 Republicans on the Rules Committee and 9 Democrats. Republicans offered dozens of amendments to H.R. 3962, including some that would protect the health savings account program, and some that would restore provisions added earlier to the House Energy and Commerce version, but voting on the proposed amendments began after midnight, and Rules Committee Democrats rejected all of the amendments with quick, party-line votes.
Republicans on the committee complained that the Democrats had shut them out, and about the fact that the Democrats had given them only a short time to read and react to a 1,990-page bill. The final version of the bill is about 1,000 pages longer than the previous versions. The addition of 1,000 extra pages is not simply a “de minimis” change, said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., the highest ranking Republican on the committee.
The Rules Committee hearing, which started at 2 p.m. and lasted until after 1 a.m., was the only chance for a House committee to debate the final version of a bill that could affect one-sixth of the U.S. economy, Dreier said.
Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., shrugged off the criticisms.
“We gave you a turn,” McGovern said. “We ended up with more and more people becoming uninsured. We need to go in a different direction.”
RULES COMMITTEE DEBATE
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said that the AHCAA bill would increases taxes by more than $700 billion over 10 years, that it could shift millions of Americans who now have group health coverage into Medicaid or other unsustainable government health programs, and that it could eliminate more than 4.7 million jobs.
Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., countered that the AHCAA bill would create jobs, by expanding the number of doctors and nurses needed to care for all of the newly insured people.
Sessions also complained about an addition to the bill that appears to permit a handful of doctor-owned hospitals to escape from new restrictions on doctor-owned hospitals. Rangel said the addition was made to help a few doctor-owned hospitals that handle an unusually large percentage of Medicaid beneficiaries; Sessions cited a press report suggesting the change had been made in an effort to drum up votes for the bill.
Many Rules Committee talked about the problems their businesses or relatives have had with getting and keeping health coverage. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., told colleagues that his own daughter has epilepsy and is classified as uninsurable. “She didn’t ask to have epilepsy,” he said, adding that he believes that denying her health coverage is immoral and violates the 14th amendment to the Constitution.