Members of the U.S. House today passed the 21st Century Cures Act health legislation package by a voice vote.
They later decided to take a recorded vote, and the package then passed 392 to 26, with just 20 Republicans and six Democrats opposing package.
Members of the Senate could vote on the package as early as next week.
The most visible section of the package would provide $4.8 billion in research funding for medical research backed by the National Institutes of Health, including Alzheimer’s research, and $500 million in funding to help the Food and Drug Administration speed up the process for approving new drugs and medical devices.
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Other high-profile provisions could provide $1 billion in grants for state efforts to fight opioid abuse.
Drafters have used the popular research funding provisions and the opioid-abuse-fighting provisions as the locomotives for a train that could pull many other pieces of legislation through Congress and onto President Obama’s desk.
One difficult question to answer is what provisions will really be in the version that gets to the president’s desk, and what provisions are still in the package now.
The House Rules Committee unveiled a 996-page PDF version of the package Friday. The cures act package is not actually a bill: For procedural reasons, it’s an amendment to a Senate amendment of H.R. 34, the Tsunami Warning, Education and Research Act of 2015 bill.
The committee also posted a section-by-section summary of the cures act package. The nature of the package, and of the deliberation process on the House floor today, makes determining exactly what is in the current version difficult.
Here’s a look at five of the less-publicized provisions in the version posted Friday that might be of interest to agents and brokers interested in commercial health insurance, employee benefits or Medicare products:
The cures bill package could free employers to use health reimbursement arrangements to give workers cash the workers could use to buy their own individual health coverage. (Photo: Thinkstock)
1. Employer cash-for-coverage plans
Section 18001 could create a provision many small employers and benefits brokers have been seeking for years: A rule that would give small employers a legal, practical vehicle they could use to provide cash that workers could use to buy their own individual health coverage.
Obama administration agencies discouraged employer use of cash-for-coverage programs by ruling that those programs would amount to stand-alone health reimbursement arrangement programs, without major medical coverage attached.
A stand-alone health reimbursement arrangement program must meet all of the same coverage rules, such as paying for basic preventive services without imposing deductibles or co-payments on the patients, that a major medical plan has to meet, according to Obama administration interpretations of federal benefits laws.
Some insurers have supported that interpretation, because they believe cash-for-coverage programs could hurt the stability of the fully insured small-group health insurance market.
The Nashville, Tennessee-based National Federation of Independent Business found when it conducted a survey that many small employers are giving workers cash for individual coverage, anyway, without understanding that they’re violating the Obama administration interpretations.
The cures act package health reimbursement arrangement provision would let a small employer provide up to $4,950 in cash per year for individual workers who showed they had individual coverage, and up to $10,000 per year for workers who showed they had family coverage. The contribution cap would be indexed for inflation.