Health Insurance Reform Capitol Update

House Splits Extenders Bill, No Senate Bill until June
Last week’s Capitol Update discussed the “tax extenders” package that is currently being debated in the House, saying that Democratic leaders hoped to pass it by the Memorial Day recess.

House Democratic leaders made the decision last week to split the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act (H.R. 4213) – or “tax extenders” package – into multiple bills that would extend dozens of tax provisions, the Medicare physicians’ payment “fix,” unemployment insurance and COBRA subsidies, after it was made clear that the larger bill could not gain the votes required for passage. The House conducted votes on some measures prior to adjourning for the Memorial Day recess.

Democratic leaders in both chambers had been working to gather support for the bill over the past week, but Blue Dogs and a number of fiscally conservative Democratic senators complained that earlier versions of the bill would have added more than $80 billion to the deficit.

Friday, the House adopted an amended rule (H Res 1403) to govern debate on a bill consisting of the unemployment insurance extension and tax extenders provisions, with revenue offsets that are expected to include international tax and a delayed effective date on carried interest provisions.  Members will then consider a separate bill with a stand-alone physicians’ payment update. A third bill addressing the 65 percent COBRA premium subsidy and Federal Medical Assistance Percentages for Medicaid (FMAP) could be considered by the House in June.

House leaders developed the plan in an effort to reduce the cost of the unemployment insurance and tax extenders legislation to win the support of fiscally conservative Democratic members.

Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) said the tax extenders legislation would be open to amendment when brought before the Senate the week of June 7. His remarks came prior to a series of votes in relation to the supplemental appropriations bill, which were the chamber’s final votes before adjourning for the Memorial Day recess.

Legislation Could Allow Americans to Stay on COBRA Health Coverage Until 2014
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Susan Davis (D-CA) have introduced new legislation that aims to “permanently” extend COBRA to help unemployed workers and early retirees purchase health coverage before the major insurance market reforms, such as guaranteed issue and the establishment of health insurance exchanges, are in place in 2014.
The “COBRA Health Benefits Extension Act of 2010” has been referred to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in the Senate, and the Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, and the Ways and Means Committees in the House. Each bill has numerous sponsors; all are Democrats.

“Passage of the historic health reform bill was the first of many steps we’ll take so that middle-class families who work hard and play by the rules can still get ahead. But until those provisions take effect, we must ensure that Americans have access to health insurance,” Brown said.  “Unemployed workers and early retirees should have the option of purchasing health coverage through COBRA.”

“Losing a job that has health insurance coverage while treating an illness at the same time is a frightening prospect for so many people and their families. We need to give people a bridge between coverage,” Davis said.
For more information about the legislation, visit these Senate and House websites.

House Republicans Release Legislation to Repeal Health Care Reform Law
On May 27, seven Republican Members of Congress introduced the “Reform Americans Can Afford Act,” a bill that proposes to repeal the current Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 and replace it with reforms addressing the interstate sale of health insurance, coverage for persons with pre-existing conditions, medical malpractice reforms and other issues.

Also, the “House GOP Health Care Solutions Group” sponsored a public forum to highlight concerns about the impact the health reform law will have on taxpayers, employers and the physician-patient relationship.

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