WASHINGTON BUREAU — Insurance producer groups are blasting H.R. 3962, the House health bill, and saying they hope the Senate will come up with something better.
Members of the House voted 220-215 shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday to pass the Affordable Health Care for America Act bill.
The next step for health bill efforts is the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is going over S. 1679, the Affordable Health Choices Act bill, a bill drafted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under the aegis of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and S. 1796, the America’s Healthy Future Act bill, which was developed by the Senate Finance Committee under the guidance of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Producer groups may have anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to make their voices heard and influence the Senate bill.
Reid could unveil the Senate Democrats’ bill, and a Congressional Budget Office score of the bill, this week, according to Beth Mantz Steindecker, an analyst at Washington Analysis, Washington. The CBO score is critical, because many members of Congress, including a number of Democrats, have said they will refuse to sign a health bill that increases the federal budget deficit.
The Senate will adjourn for the week Wednesday, in observance of Veterans Day.
If Reid gets a CBO score this week, that probably means that the earliest a Senate health bill could reach the Senate floor would be the work week starting Nov. 15, Mantz Steindecker says.
Mantz Steindecker predicts that the Senate will need a minimum of two weeks for debate. With the Thanksgiving recess, which will last from Nov. 23 to Nov. 27, that means the earliest a vote in the Senate could occur would be the week starting Dec. 6. Conferees would then have a mere two weeks to pass the bill before the winter recess.
“Given that we don’t know when Reid will drop his bill, and Republicans are promising to slow down the floor debate with amendments, a more likely scenario is that the Senate passes a bill by the end of the year, and the final bill is enacted next year before the State of the Union, which usually occurs in late January,” she says.
H.R. 3962 and the surviving Senate health bills would expand Medicaid; require health insurers to sell coverage on a guaranteed-issue, mostly community-rated basis; and set up a “health insurance exchange” system to help consumers and small groups shop for standardized health benefits packages.
Unlike S. 1796, but like S. 1679, H.R. 3962 would create a new public health plan option and make public option coverage available through the proposed exchange system.
H.R. 3962 would fund itself partly by imposing a 5.4% surtax on individuals with annual incomes over $500,000 and couples with annual incomes over $1 million; S. 1976 would raise revenue by imposing a 40% excise tax on “Cadillac health plans.”
PRODUCER GROUPS WEIGH IN
The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Falls Church, Va., says that one H.R. 3962 provision would repeal the McCarran-Ferguson Act for health and medical malpractice insurers, and that another would give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to oversee all lines of insurance.