The House passed its version of health care reform and now awaits the Senate’s decision. The House voted 220-215 late Saturday, with 39 Democrats opposed and one Republican in favor of the legislation.
Like the Senate version, H.R. 3962 calls for the creation of a public option to cover uninsured Americans. Dubbed the “Affordable Health Care for America Act,” the bill would require nearly all Americans to sign up for health coverage either through an employer or through a government program by 2013.
The legislation also carries a bevy of new restrictions for insurers, including banning insurer from dropping customers based on preexisting conditions. Employers also face new rules under the plan, such as a mandate that companies with than 50 employees offer insurance to their workers or face penalties.
Industry associations, including America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), are none too pleased with the passage. “Health plans strongly support comprehensive health care reform, and we have contributed to this discussion by proposing a complete overhaul of how health insurance is provided,” says Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of AHIP. “The current House legislation fails to bend the health care cost curve and breaks the promise that those who like their current coverage can keep it. A new government-run plan will cause millions to lose their existing coverage and draconian Medicare Advantage cuts will force millions of seniors out of the program entirely. This bill imposes inflexible mandates before getting everyone covered and new regulations that duplicate what is already in place at the state level. Many of these reforms begin in 2010 after employees have already chosen their plans and contracts have been negotiated. The result will be increased costs and massive disruptions in the quality coverage individuals and families rely on today.”
The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) also expressed its disappointment with the bill. “IIABA is greatly disappointed that after months of negotiations, hearings, votes and debate in three House committees we seem to be back on square one: a bad bill that includes a ‘public option’ and deprives the American people of true choices in their health care,” says Robert Rusbuldt, IIABA president & CEO.
Charles Symington, IIABA SVP of government affairs, says the bill includes a government-run health insurance plan (public option) that would unfairly compete with the private insurance marketplace, limit consumer choice and increase the taxpayer burden. “This bill picks winners and losers, and small businesses and health care consumers are the biggest losers today,” he says.
Of further concern is The House health care bill’s repeal of an exemption from federal antitrust oversight. Issued in 1945, the McCarran-Ferguson Act gave states the power and authority to regulate insurers, essentially freeing companies from federal antitrust authority in categories where state laws existed.
Initially passed to give insurers the opportunity to share information about risk that many insurers would otherwise be unable to determine from their own claims experience, it is limited to actions such as actuarial predictions that fall under the definition of the "business of insurance." According to the Wall Street Journal, “most legal experts believe its scope is fairly narrow.”
"Insurers are only exempt from federal laws if there are state laws,” said William Schiffbauer, a health-insurance-regulation lawyer who consults for AHIP, in the WSJ report. “We are not letting anyone off the hook here.”
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill in the weeks to come, but as of today’s writing, no date has been set for Senate discussion.
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