House Unveils Health Care Bill with Public Option, No Benefits Tax; Vote Sought by Recess
Comprehensive health care reform took a significant step forward this afternoon when House leaders unveiled the final draft of a bill that contains a public health insurance plan option and shared responsibility, including an employer “pay or play” requirement—while not taxing the health care benefits working families receive through their job. A vote could come by the end of July.
The bill closely follows the health care blueprint developed by the House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees and includes cost containment and insurance market reforms to help stop private insurance industry abuses. For a closer look at the House bill, click here.
Says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) about the bill:
Over the coming weeks, Congress will continue working with President Obama to make health care reform work for middle-class families in America….We have a path to success: lowering costs for consumers and businesses; giving greater choice to Americans, including keeping your current doctor or plan if you like them; improving the quality of your care; putting doctors, not insurance companies, back in charge.
The money spent on providing health care coverage is tax-deductible to the employer, and the employee is not taxed on it. Some 160 million people have health care benefits tied to the workplace. But many congressional Republicans and conservative groups have pushed for a health care benefits tax.
Rather than taxing workers’ benefits provided by employers, the House bill calls for a small tax surcharge on individuals making more than $280,000 a year and married couples with annual incomes over $350,000.
The House proposal meets President Obama’s goals by controlling runaway health care costs, offering the American people real choices and expanding access to quality health care. It does not ask the American people to pay more for what they already have. In fact, this legislation offers the real promise of improving quality, increasing access and reducing costs, all at the same time.
The bill’s introduction comes at a time when the health care industry, including the private health insurance community, is spending $1.4 million a day on lobbying efforts, according to a recent report in the Washington Post.
According to disclosure records, firms spent more than $126 million in the first quarter of 2009 to pay for more than 350 former lawmakers, congressional staffers and executive branch officials to lobby Congress. Many of the firms are trying to block or weaken health care reform, especially provisions supporting a public health plan and pay or play. As the Post says:
The aim of the lobbying blitz is simple: to minimize the damage to insurers, hospitals and other major sectors while maximizing the potential of up to 46 million uninsured Americans as new customers. Although many firms have vowed to help cut costs, major players such as PhRMA [Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America], America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and others remain opposed to the public-insurance option.
At a news conference last week, President Obama said many of the groups that oppose comprehensive health care reform are deliberately sowing fear in the public. He said that while most people support fixing the nation’s broken health are system, “they’re also afraid of the unknown.”
And we have a long history in America of scaring people that they’re going to lose their doctor, they’re going to lose their health care plans, they’re going to be stuck with some bureaucratic government system that’s not responsive to their needs.
And overcoming that fear—fear that is often actively promoted by special interests who profit from the existing system—is a challenge….My biggest job is to explain to the American people why this is so important and give them confidence that we can do better than we’re doing right now.
House leaders hope to have the bill on the floor by the last week of July and a final vote before adjourning July 31 for the August recess. Congress reconvenes Sept. 8.
Henry Waxman, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said, “We cannot go home for a recess unless the House and the Senate” act on health care.
In the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee continues to work on its version of health care reform that also includes a public health insurance option and a pay or play provision. Last week, committee Democrats defeated an attempt by Republicans to kill the public plan option.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said a public plan would
foster competition in the health insurance industry, promote efficiency in the market, along with innovation and fair competition, and guarantee a wellness and prevention dimension that would save money.
The Finance Committee still is developing its version of health care reform legislation.