House Committees Release Draft Tri-Committee Health Reform Bill
As we head into July, the federal debate has become more defined as four of the five Congressional committees with jurisdiction over health reform have released draft health reform bills. On June 19th , the Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means Committees in the House of Representatives released a joint tri-committee draft health reform bill. Earlier in June, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee released its health reform bill. The final committee with jurisdiction over health reform, the Senate Finance Committee, is expected to release its health reform bill soon after the 4th of July Congressional recess. House and Senate leadership hope to pass legislation in their respective chambers before August and get a final compromise bill to the President in October. Key components of the recently released House tri-committee bill include:
National Health Insurance Exchange: By 2013, a National Health Insurance Exchange is to be established to replace the current individual health insurance market and provide an option for employers and public program enrollees in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). States would be allowed to apply to the federal government to establish state or regional exchanges. The Exchange is to establish health plan standards, facilitate the provision of comparative information, enrollment, billing, and other administrative functions, administer coverage subsidies, and respond to consumer grievances.
Public Plan: No later than 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services is to develop and offer a Public Plan through the Exchange to compete with private insurers. The Public Plan is to comply with the same requirements as other private health plans participating in the Exchange, but provider payments from the Public Plan are to be similar to Medicare rates and providers participating in Medicare would be required to participate in the Public Plan for five years. The federal government would provide start up funding for the Public Plan, but it must become self-sustaining after initial start up.
Insurance Market Reform: The legislation requires changes to the individual and group markets that prohibit pre-existing condition exclusions, prohibit premium rating based on health status, gender, or occupation and limit rating by age, require guarantee issue and renewal of coverage, require a medical loss ratio of 85 percent, prohibit annual or lifetime benefit limits and limit annual cost sharing, establish a Benefits Advisory Committee to recommend a minimum benefit package and three additional standard benefit plans, and establish a risk spreading mechanism to minimize unequal risk selection in health plans.
Coverage Mandates: By 2013, all individuals would be required to have health insurance coverage. Those not complying with the mandate are to be assessed a tax up to the cost of the minimum benefit plan. Exceptions to the mandate are granted for religious objection and financial hardship. Employers would be required to provide 72.5 percent for single coverage and 65 percent for family coverage of the lowest cost minimum benefit set plan or pay an eight percent tax on wages. Certain small businesses with payroll below a set level would be exempt.
Coverage Subsidies: Sliding scale subsidies varying by income would be available through the Exchange for individuals and families with incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($88,000 for a family of four) so that premiums would not exceed 10 percent of income. Sliding scale subsidies varying by employee income and employer size worth up to 50 percent of premium would be available to employers with less than 25 employees whose average wage is below $40,000.
Medicaid Reform: The legislation expands Medicaid eligibility for all individuals to 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($14,000 for an individual) and requires an 85 percent medical loss ratio for Medicaid managed care organizations. It also establishes new preventive services benefits, increases payments for primary care, and implements a medical home pilot project to reduce costs and improve outcomes through use of preventive services and care coordination.
Medicare Reform: The legislation restructures provider payment rates and requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop new payment methods to promote coordinated care and reward quality and efficiency in areas such as hospital readmissions, post-acute care, imaging, and primary care. The bill reduces payment rates and establishes an 85 percent medical loss ratio for Medicare Advantage plans. The legislation also eliminates the coverage gap (donut hole) in Part D by 2023 and reauthorizes Special Needs Plans (SNPs) that integrate care for beneficiaries with coverage through Medicaid and Medicare.
Other Health System Reforms: The legislation also makes investments in the health care workforce to improve access to primary care, makes investments in prevention and public health programs, establishes national centers for quality improvement and comparative effectiveness research, establishes mechanisms to simplify administrative functions, and enhances efforts to reduce fraud, waste, and abuse.