A draft of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s health care reform bill is finally available, and it is difficult to overstate how far he would move us to a government‐run health care system. An initial read‐through reveals among the key provisions:
- An individual mandate, requiring that every American purchase a “qualified” insurance plan. (Sec. 161(a)) The mandate will be enforced through the tax code with Americans required to pay a penalty if they fail to comply. In an extraordinary delegation of congressional authority, the Kennedy bill would give the Secretaries of Treasury and Health and Human Services the power to determine what this penalty should be. Individuals would be required to submit information on their insurance status over the previous year to the Secretary of HHS, along with “any such other information as the Secretary may require.” (Sec. 6055(b)(2) and (3)). Individuals who already have insurance could keep it. However, if they changed plans (or presumably changed jobs), their new insurance would have to meet the definition of “qualified.”
- A “pay or play” employer mandate requiring employers to provide all workers with health insurance and pay a minimum amount of the premium, or pay a tax (Sec 162). Again, the amount of the new tax is left to the discretion of the Secretaries of HHS and Treasury. Some small employers would be exempt from the mandate, but the size of those firms remains TBA. (Sec. 3113(g)) Companies with fewer than 250 workers would be forbidden to self‐ensure. (Sec. 2720)
- A new federal bureaucracy, the Medical Advisory Council, which would determine what benefits will be required to be part of your “qualified” insurance plan. (Sec. 3103(h) and (i)). Lest anyone think Congress won’t get involved. The Council’s decisions can be disapproved by Congress if, say, they don’t mandate inclusion by a favored provider group or disease constituency. (Sec 3103(g)).
- Massive new federal subsidies. Medicaid would be expanded to individuals earning 150 percent of the poverty level, and the federal government would pay all incremental costs of the increased enrollment. (Sec 152.) Single, childless adults would become eligible for Medicaid. Even more egregious, individuals and families with incomes between 150 – 500 percent of the poverty level ($110,250 for a family of four) would be eligible for subsidies on a sliding scale-basis.(Sec. 3111(b)(1)(A‑G)).
- Insurers would be required to accept all applicants regardless of their health (guaranteed issue) and forbid insurers from basing insurance premiums on risk factors (Community rating). There does not appear to be any exception for lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol or drug use, diet, exercise, etc. Thus, not only will the young and healthy be forced to pay higher premiums to subsidize the old and unhealthy, but the responsible will be forced to pay more to subsidize the irresponsible.
- A “public option” operating in competition with private insurance (Section 31__). How this plan would be funded, the level of premiums, etc. is left mostly TBA. In response to criticism, the Kennedy bill does require that the public plan pay providers 10 percent above Medicare reimbursement rates. (Sec 31__(B)). That would still allow for a considerable degree of cost‐shifting to private insurance. And, we should recall that such promises are ephemeral. When Medicare began, proponents promised it would reimburse at the same rate as insurance. That promise didn’t last long.
- States would be prodded to set up “gateways,” similar to Massachusetts’ “connector.” (Sec 3104(a)) If a state fails to do so, the federal government will set one up for them. (Sec. 3104(d)) The federal government would provide grants to states to help them set up these gateways. The amount of the grants is, you guessed it, left to the discretion of the Secretary of HHS. Gateways may also fund their operations by assessing a surcharge on insurers. Sec. 3101(b)(5)(A)/
- A new federal long‐term care program (Sec 171).
Kennedy does not include any estimate of how much his plan would cost, nor any proposal for how to pay for it.
More details will undoubtedly emerge, but it is very clear that the Kennedy plan would put one‐sixth of the US economy and some of our most important, personal, and private decisions firmly under the thumb of the federal government.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D‑Mass.) has begun circulating drafts of his proposed health care reform legislation. Initial reports, including an op‐ed in the Boston Globe by Kennedy himself, suggest that the bill will contain every one of the bad ideas that I outlined in my recent Policy Analysis on what to expect from Obamacare.
Among other things, the Kennedy bill will call for:
- An employer mandate;
- An individual mandate;
- A so‐called “Public Option,” a Medicare‐like plan that will compete with private insurance;
- The use of comparative‐effectiveness/cost‐effectiveness research to restrain costs;
- Subsidies for families earning as much as 500% of the poverty level ($110,250 for a family of four).
- Insurance regulation, including guaranteed issue and community rating. (He would also establish a Massachusetts‐style Connector); and
- Government‐directed health IT.
There’s no indication yet of how much the plan would cost or how Sen. Kennedy plans to pay for it.
The bill will be formally presented to Senator Kennedy’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) sometime next week. Hearings could be held around June 10, and committee “mark up” could begin on June 17.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D‑Mont.) is expected to introduce his health care bill shortly before the Finance committee begins its scheduled mark up on June 10.
Meanwhile President Obama’s campaign apparatus is planning rallies and demonstrations around the country to build support for health care reform.
The battle over the future of health care in this country has begun.
Like my colleague, Michael Cannon, I was convinced by the staff summary and general spin accompanying the Republican health care bill introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn (R‑OK) and Richard Burr (R‑NC), and Reps. Paul Ryan (R‑WI) and Devin Nunes (R‑CA) that the bill headed, albeit more slowly, down the same road to government‐run health care as expected Democratic proposals. However, a closer reading of the actual bill shows that, while there are still reasons for concern, it may be much better than originally advertised.
First, it should be pointed out that the centerpiece of the bill is an important change to the tax treatment of employer‐provided health insurance. The Coburn‐Burr‐Ryan‐Nunez bill would replace the current tax exclusion for employer‐provided health insurance with a refundable tax credit of $2,300 per year an individual worker or $5,700 per year for family coverage. This move to personal, portable health insurance has long been at the heart of free market healthy care proposals. The bill would also expand health savings accounts and make important reforms to Medicaid and Medicare.
And, the bill should receive credit for what it does not contain. There is no individual or employer mandate. (I could live without the auto‐enroll provisions, but they look more obnoxious than truly dangerous). There is no government board determining the cost‐effectiveness of treatment. There is no “public option” competing with private insurance. In short, the bill avoids most of the really bad ideas for health reform featured in my recent Policy Analysis.
Other aspects are more problematic. The authors still seem far too attached to the idea of an exchange/connector/portal. The summary implied that states would be required to establish such mechanism. In reality, however, the bill merely creates incentives for states to do so. Moreover, I have been repeatedly assured that the bill’s authors are aiming for the more benign Utah‐style “portal,” rather than the bureaucratic nightmare that is the Massachusetts “connector.” Still, I would be more comfortable if the staff summary had not singled out Massachusetts as the only state reform worthy of being called “an achievement.”
And, if states choose to set up an exchange, a number of federal requirements kick in, such as a requirement that at least one plan offered through the exchange provide benefits equal to those on the low cost FEHBP plan. There is also a guaranteed issue requirement.
Elsewhere, there are also requirements that states set up some type of risk‐adjustment mechanism although the bureaucratic ex‐post option that I criticized previously, appears to be only one option among many for meeting this requirement. And, I wish the authors hadn’t jumped on the health IT bandwagon. Health IT is a very worthy concept, but one better handled by the private sector.
And, if we should praise the bill for what it doesn’t include, we should criticize it in the same way. The bill does not include one of the best free market reform proposals of recent years, Rep. John Shadegg’s call for letting people purchase health insurance across state lines.
The bills (there are minor differences between the House and Senate versions) run to nearly 300 pages, and additional details, both good and bad, may emerge as I have more opportunity to study them. But for now, the bill, while flawed, looks to have far more good than bad.