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Anthem: This Week in Health Reform - October 12-16, 2009

Oct 16, 2009

This week, Senate Finance Committee members voted on the committee's health care reform bill, and the conversation shifted to how to reconcile the bill with pending legislation from the House.

Senate Negotiations  

Senate Finance Committee Passes Bill: On Tuesday, after months of negotiations, the Senate Finance Committee passed its $829 billion health care reform package with a 14-9 vote. One Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) voted with Democrats on the committee. The proposal would expand coverage to 29 million uninsured Americans while reducing deficits by $81 billion over 10 years. The bill includes insurance market reforms, an individual mandate to purchase coverage that appears reduced when compared with prior versions, an expansion of Medicaid, a cut in future Medicare spending, new fees and taxes on employers, and billions in new fees on health insurance and other sectors of the health care industry. The bill also includes seed funding for state cooperative plans and subsidies for other state coverage programs. 

Shortly after the vote, labor unions and large business organizations requested changes to the Finance Committee bill primarily because it omitted a public option . The swift feedback from interest groups underscores the difficult road ahead for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who will work to merge the Finance Committee bill with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) bill passed last summer. Unions and lawmakers such as Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) have criticized the legislation for not including a public option . At the same time, insurance companies, medical device makers and others in the health care industry are voicing strong concerns about the increased premium costs of the proposed legislation. 

House Activities   

Legislators Look to Reconcile Health Care Measures:
House leaders indicated that negotiators have trimmed costs for its proposed health care reform bill to President Barack Obama's goal of $900 billion, down from $1.2 trillion. Aides said the final bill will include slightly lower subsidies for copayments and deductibles for people who buy coverage through the new insurance exchanges that be would established for those who can't access affordable employer coverage. A provision preventing doctors who see Medicare patients from having their fees cut was excluded, while a surcharge tax on incomes of individuals ($500,000 or more) and families ($1 million or more) was included. House members will consider including more low income families in Medicaid instead of the insurance exchange market, and adopting tax increases featured in the Senate Finance Committee bill, including a profit tax on health insurers. They have, however, rejected the tax on "Cadillac" plans.

Additional Activities  

Insurance Industry Study Indicates Higher Costs:
On Sunday, the insurance industry trade association, America's Health Insurance Plans, released a study indicating that the proposed Finance Committee legislation would raise the price of a typical policy. The study, completed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, projected that family premiums could be $4,000 higher and individual premiums could be $1,500 higher in 2019. The report details that a weak individual mandate, measures preventing insurers from barring people with pre-existing conditions, taxes on high-cost health care plans and new taxes on some health care industry sectors will rapidly raise costs.

On Wednesday, another study conducted by Oliver Wyman Inc. and sponsored by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association indicated that the proposed legislation would raise premiums 50% for individual and 19% for small group policies. Premium increases would likely be a result of a weak individual insurance mandate over the next five years.

Looking Ahead  

Following the Senate Finance Committee vote, health care reform legislation negotiations will continue behind closed doors. Sen. Reid will merge the Senate Finance and the HELP Committee bills. He has indicated that the full Senate will begin debating the merged legislation the week of October 26.

House leaders are expected to vote the first week of November.
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