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Rockefeller Explains What’s Wrong With The Baucus Health Care Bill

By Igor Volsky on September 16, 2009 at 10:50 am

"Rockefeller Explains What’s Wrong With The Baucus Health Care Bill"

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RockefellerYesterday, during a conference call with reporters, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) expressed his strong opposition to the Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill. “I have sat by Max Baucus for 25 years on the Finance Committee, probably his best friend on the Finance Committtee…but I cannot agree with him on this bill,” Rockefeller explained.

“The public option is one factor, Medicaid is a huge factor. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been relegated to the Exchange, and affordability. So according to my current understanding, and it changes a lot, of the Finance bill, there is no way in its present form that I would vote for it.”

Along with Professor Jacob Hacker, Rockefeller laid out his criticism’s of Baucus’ legislation:

- Replacing The Public Option With Co-Ops That Won’t Work: “There are only about 4 to 7 [Co-ops] that exist [nationwide]. And I’m very skeptical… of starting up a system that doesn’t work.”

- Insurers Will Pass Tax Onto Beneficiaries: [Baucus] “would impose a 35% excise tax on insurance companies in 2013, when this kicks in. Over $8,000 for singles, and $21,000 for families. Now that raises $200 billion, so I understand the temptation. But …every single coal miner is going to have a big big tax put on them because the tax will be put on the company, the company will immediately pass it down in lower benefits…and probably higher premiums to coal miners who are getting very good health care benefits for a very good reason and that’s because like steel workers and others, they are doing about the most dangerous job that can be done in America [and are therefore expensive to insure]. So that’s not a very smart idea, in fact it’s a very dangerous idea.

- Employers Not Required To Provide Any Coverage: Rockefeller highlighted his concern that self-insured plans “escape all regulation, which is being contemplated for others with insurance under the Baucus plan.” Hacker argued that the free-rider provision (which only requires employers to pay for the subsidies their workers receive through the Exchange) “will encourage firms to offer bare bones coverage so they can avoid having to pay those subsidies and would discourage them from hiring those who are eligible for subsidies in the first place.”

- CHIP Folded Into Exchange, Children Could Lose Special Benefits: “A governor obviously has a low budget and is going through the problems that everybody else is and if he can knock some kids out of CHIP or cut down on Medicaid, many of them are perfectly content to do that because most people aren’t all that sympathetic and these people don’t have voice they can collectively raise.” “[C]hilren had to have special types of benefits, for example, we have mental, we have dental. We do not have, because of what’s in the bill, EPSDT, and you all know what that is, early screening… What Sen. Baucus did is put the children’s health insurance program out of the Medicaid defined package category and put it into the Exchange where it’s just there to compete with anybody else and all of the particular parts to children probably will get ignored because the benefits will change. Kaiser News Network has more on this concern.

- Have To Ensure That Coverage Is Affordable: Hacker pointed out a public option would save approximately $150 billion over 10 years and allow the government to invest those savings into better and stronger subsidies. Other critics have also argued that private insurers could charge older individuals up to five times more for coverage. “You’re just using age as a proxy for health status,” Uwe Reinhardt, an economics professor at Princeton University told the New York Times. Reinhardt estimates that “Senator Baucus’s age-rating plan would allow insurers to cover roughly 70 percent of the additional risk they’d take on by being required to accept all comers, regardless of health.” As the Washington Post explained yesterday, “under the Baucus plan, subsidies would be offered to people who earn up to 400 percent of the poverty level ($43,000 for an individual or $88,000 for a family of four)… The credit would be calibrated on a sliding scale to ensure that people at the bottom of the income range paid no more than 3 percent of their earnings for premiums while those at the top would be liable for as much as 13 percent.” “That would amount to more than $700 a month for a family of four making $66,000 a year — significantly more than most people at the same income level now pay, according to research conducted by Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow in the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute.” For a full affordability chart, click here.

Finally, other critics have argued that the rules of the Exchange offer insurers too much flexibility for benefits design. The Baucus bill requires insurers participating in the Exchange to offer plans in four different tiers. Each plan an insurer offers would have to meet a different actuarial-value. In the silver tier, insurers would have to cover 73% of the health care expenses of an average population; the remaining 27% would be picked up by individuals.

But Sarah Lueck at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warns that “an actuarial-value standard on its own” would not prevent insurers from designing packages that would attract healthier applicants and deter “enrollment by those in poorer health.” “For example, insurers could offer a benefits design that omits or severely limits services needed by people with serious medical conditions, while offering richer benefits in other areas such as vision care or health-club memberships. In that way, an insurer could meet an actuarial standard while designing a package calculated to deter sicker people (by failing to cover basic services they need) and attract healthy ones.” Insurers could offer cheaper preventive services without any cost sharing but cover more expensive services only after a high deductible is satisfied.

Lueck concludes that “many enrollees still are likely to end up underinsured for key health services unless an actuarial-value standard is combined with…[the] requirement that all plans offer basic comprehensive coverage.” She writes that policy makers should establish “limits on the degree of variation in different benefit designs to prevent insurers in an exchange from creating benefit packages designed to deter less-healthy enrollees and attract only individuals in good health.”

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