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House panels debate American Health Care Act draft

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House Democrats today used a health insurance executive pay tax provision to attack the American Health Care Act draft, the new Republican Affordable Care Act de-funding measure, at two heated committee markups.

The House Ways & Means Committee held one markup of the measure, and the House Energy & Commerce Committee held a markup at the same time.

The ACA now limits the deduction health insurers can take on top executives’ pay to $500,000. Ways & Means Democrats repeatedly blasted an AHCA provision that could eliminate the cap altogether.

Related: ACA pay curb could snare providers, stop-loss issuers

“That we give them a tax break seems somewhat counterintuitive,” Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., said.

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., mocked the provision. “We’re going to immediately alleviate the pain and suffering these insurance executives have right now by lifting the cap,” he said.

The AHCA draft would delay the onset of the ACA Cadillac plan tax on high-cost health benefits, but Crowley said the AHCA should include immediate, permanent repeal of that tax.

Both Ways & Means and Energy & Commerce streamed their markups live on the web.

The Ways & Means video is available here, and the video for the Energy & Commerce markup, which, at press time, was still going on, is available here.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the Energy & Commerce chairman, said his committee and Ways & Means are supposed to review, and, possibly, amend their versions of the draft, and send their versions to the House Budget Committee.

Related: Walden framework could shape post-ACA health underwriting

The House Budget Committee is supposed to reconcile the two versions, then send the reconciled version to the House Rules Committee, Walden said.

The Rules Committee would set the rules for bringing the measure up on the House floor.

If the House passes the measure, it would then send the measure to the Senate. Through a special budget measure consideration process that depends partly on decisions by the Senate parliamentarian about whether particular provisions are germane to the budget, the Senate could then approve the measure with just 51 votes. Supporters of legislation normally need support from 60 senators to get legislation through the Senate.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., got under Greg Walden's skin early on with parliamentary inquiriries. (Photo: House Energy & Commerce)

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., got under Greg Walden’s skin early on with parliamentary inquiries. (Photo: House Energy & Commerce)

Rough start

The mood at the House Energy hearing was much angrier.

As the Ways & Means hearing was moving slowly, and the Democrats and Republicans on the House Education and Workforce Committee occasionally joked with one another about the excellence of their proposed health benefits bill amendments, Energy & Commerce got stuck on procedural questions early on.

Walden got frustrated with Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., making what Walden thought were too many parliamentary inquiries and started ignoring the inquiries.

Energy & Commerce Democrats complained bitterly that Republicans had given them just a little more than one day to review the AHCA draft, not the three days, normally required.

Republicans were angry at Democrats for proposing dozens of amendments without giving them time to read the amendments.

Pallone questioned whether all of the provisions in the AHCA draft are really “germane to the budget.”

Walden said the Energy & Commerce Committee has no responsibility to abide by the Senate budget measure consideration rules, and has no access to the Senate parliamentarian.

Like the House Ways & Means Democrats, Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., criticized the health insurance executive pay deductibility increase provision.

When looking at the AHCA, “we see carveouts, tax loopholes, giveaways to the highest earners, and cuts for working Americans,” Pascrell said.


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