Health Insurance Reform Washington Update

Summary of what has been happening in Washington as of Aug. 6, 2010.

Senators Introduce New Legislation to Increase Transparency and Competition in Insurance Industry
Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced “The Insurance Competition and Transparency Act” (S. 3685) in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Aug 2. The legislation would authorize the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to use its authority under the Federal Trade Commission Act to “investigate and disclose information about practices employed by insurance companies that may reduce competition in the marketplace.”

The bill goes a step further and explicitly states that since many insurance companies have non-profit status, it would eliminate the exemption under the Act for non-profit insurers. S. 3685 is based on an amendment that was filed by Senators Pryor, Rockefeller and Boxer during the Senate’s health reform debate in December 2009.

Senate Passes Child Nutrition Bill
Led by the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the Senate passed the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” (S. 3307) by unanimous consent on Aug. 5. The legislation authorizes a $4.5 billion increase over 10 years for school lunches and other nutrition programs. It also gives the Agriculture Department authority to set nutrition standards for foods sold in vending machines and in a la carte lines in schools.

Of the $4.5 billion, the legislation provides $1.2 billion to increase the number of children receiving food, in an effort to meet President Barack Obama’s pledge to end childhood hunger by 2015. The remaining $3.2 billion would be used to improve the quality of school meals. The cost of the legislation is entirely offset. Review the Congressional Budget Office’s budgetary impact report.

Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee commended Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Lincoln for her work on the bill, noting that it passed both the Agriculture Committee and the full Senate without a single dissenting vote.

The House of Representatives still needs to pass its version of the bill, “The Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act” (H.R. 5504), in order for President Obama to sign the bill before Sept. 30, when many of the programs are set to expire. The House Education and Labor Committee approved the measure on July 15.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also commended the Senate for its action on the legislation and pushed the House to follow the Senate’s lead. “The AAP urges the House to follow the Senate’s swift action on this bill and pass strong child nutrition legislation when Congress reconvenes in September. All children deserve a healthy future, which starts with access to healthy, nutritious meals every day.”  See the American Academy of Pediatrics’ entire statement.

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