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House Democrats Outline Employer Mandate in Health Bill

The 850-page proposal is meant to serve as the foundation for the work that the House health, commerce and tax committees will do over the next several weeks to develop a final health care measure by the end of July. Hearings are slated to begin June 23.

June 19, 2009
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Democratic leaders of three House committees formally started the health care legislative process on their side of Capitol Hill on Friday, June 19, by introducing a draft bill that would make companies cover employees or contribute to a national insurance fund.

The 850-page proposal is meant to serve as the foundation for the work that the House health, commerce and tax committees will do over the next several weeks to develop a final health care measure by the end of July. Hearings are slated to begin June 23.

The Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee began hearings on its 615-page bill this week. The sessions have generated partisan tension, as Republicans complained of being shut out and questioned how the more than $1 trillion measure would be funded.

The Senate Finance Committee postponed hearings on its health care bill until after the congressional July 4 recess because of concerns about cost estimates that have been reported to be as high as $1.5 trillion.

The House draft measure depends in part on employers to foot the bill through what it calls “shared responsibility.”

Under the proposal, employers would pay 72.5 percent of the premium cost for full-time employees and 65 percent for a family policy while meeting minimum coverage standards.

If an employer does not offer health care, it would have to pay 8 percent of its payroll cost into a health insurance exchange, where individuals would be able to buy their own policies.

That exchange would include a so-called government-run public option, which Democratic leaders argue would provide competition to private insurers and lower premiums. Republican lawmakers have fiercely criticized the public option, calling it a step toward a federal takeover of the health care system.

The House committee leaders said their bill would cover about 95 percent of Americans. They do not yet have a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

“Our discussion draft is the first step in building a truly American solution that will reduce costs, offer real choice and guarantee affordable, quality health care for all,” said Rep. George Miller, D-California and chair of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Previewing their opposition at next week’s hearing, committee Republicans attacked the plan.

“From employer mandates that could cost workers their jobs to a government takeover that could cost patients their current coverage, Democrats are proposing a radical shift in how Americans receive health care—one that, unfortunately, puts government before people,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minnesota and the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

But the leader of the House tax panel said that details like the 8 percent assessment on employers that do not offer health care coverage are open to negotiation.

“There is nothing locked in cement,” said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

In an interview after the June 19 press conference, Miller said the three House committees had reached out to the corporate community before drafting their proposal.

“Big businesses, small businesses met with us,” Miller said. “People have been very cooperative.”

He stressed that the House bill would not impede companies that want to offer health insurance, which many of them see as vital for recruiting and retention.

“Life is going to go on for them the way they want to do it,” Miller said.

Although they didn’t provide details about cost cutting or revenue provisions, the Democratic leaders asserted that the bill would not drive up the federal deficit, which now stands at $1.8 trillion.

“We don’t have the figures of how much this is going to cost,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “But we’re going to pay for this bill.”

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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