Thirteen Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted in favor of the measure and 10 Republican members voted against it.
The bill shares elements of reform legislation unveiled Tuesday by House Democrats, including mandating that employers offer coverage meeting certain standards or pay an assessment, partially subsidizing big health insurance claims for employers that offer coverage to retirees before they are eligible for Medicare, providing premium subsidies for the low-income uninsured, and establishing state insurance exchanges through which individuals and employers could buy coverage from commercial insurers or a new public plan.
The coverage mandate would apply to employers with more than 25 employees. Employers would have to pay 60 percent of the premium, plans could not have annual or lifetime dollar limits, and coverage would have to be extended to employees’ adult children to age 26.
Employers not meeting these standards would have to pay an annual assessment of $750 for each full-time employee not covered and $375 for every part-time employee not covered.
However, in a slight modification of an earlier proposal, the assessment would start with the 26th employee not covered. If an employer had 26 employees and did not provide acceptable coverage, its assessment would be $750, not $19,500.
In addition, individuals not enrolled in a health care plan would be liable for an annual penalty of $750.
The Senate committee’s action came as three House panels prepared for Thursday consideration of reform legislation backed by House Democratic leaders.
The Senate Finance Committee, the other Senate panel with jurisdiction over health care, has not yet presented a bill. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, committee chairman, has been working for months to develop bipartisan support for a reform measure.
President Barack Obama hailed the Senate health committee’s action and urged Congress to approve reform legislation quickly. The bill’s passage should “provide the urgency for both the House and Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess,” the president said in a statement.