Posts Tagged - ‘congress’

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Medicare & Medicaid Head Named Via Recess Appointment

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

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One of the people most responsible for implementing the provisions of affordable health insurance reform is the administrator for the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services. President Barack Obama nominated Dr. Donald Berwick for the role several weeks ago.

However, the Obama administration has had trouble getting Berwick approved by the Senate. Many senators fear that some statements Berwick has previously made indicate that he favors totally government-run socialized medicine, similar to that in the United Kingdom. As a result, Obama has used the controversial recess appointment to install Berwick.

A recess appointment is done through an executive order when Congress is on break. Despite its risks, effective healthcare reform that results in cheap health insurance rates requires that the post isn’t left open any longer than necessary.

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COBRA Subsidy Extension Fails; Get Short Term Health Insurance

Monday, June 14th, 2010

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A divided Congress failed to pass a bill that would have extended the COBRA health insurance subsidy for jobless workers. COBRA allows ex-employees to continue on their old employer’s health coverage, but it forces them to cover the entire premium–which they are often unable to afford. As part of the 2009 stimulus package, President Obama included a subsidy of up to 65% of the cost of COBRA coverage for those laid off during the recession.

Unfortunately, millions are still unemployed. The subsidies are steadily expiring, but budget concerns have made moderate Democrats (with an eye on winning re-election in November) leery of passing yet another big spending bill. President Obama has begged them to renew the subsidy, but to no avail. As a result, many will let their coverage expire and become uninsured.

However, there is a solution. Short term health insurance coverage can be kept only as long as you need it, until you find another job with health benefits. Most options are typically less generous than a previous employer’s insurance may have been, but that means that it will be more affordable. Such coverage protects you against essential emergencies.

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COBRA Health Insurance Subsidy Expires

Friday, June 11th, 2010

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COBRA is a law that allows laid off or otherwise unemployed employees to retain their group health insurance coverage. Unfortunately, many people are unable to utilize it due to the high cost. Former employees must pay the full cost of the premium (as opposed to having it partially covered by the company), plus an administrative fee.

A subsidy of up to 45%–included in last year’s stimulus package–allowed those who lost their jobs between September of 2008 until this May to more easily afford health insurance coverage. That help expired on June 2nd. Some may choose individual health insurance instead, but similarly priced plans on the individual market include less coverage, and are still able to reject people with pre-existing conditions until 2014.

Democrats in Congress are currently trying to reinstate the subsidy, since unemployment rates are still high (despite the official end of the recession). However, many are worried that the expense is too high to add onto an existing budget deficit, so its chances of passing are relatively remote.

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Pro-Healthcare Reform Mailing Spawns Controversy

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

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Recently, the federal government sent out an informational pamphlet to millions of Medicare beneficiaries. What’s the problem with that?

The issue is that some people believe that the mailing crosses the line from information into propaganda. The pamphlet talks about how the positive impact the healthcare reform law is predicted to have on its recipients.

Republicans in Congress want the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether the cost of printing and sending the document was legitimate. They contend that the the information about medical insurance in it is biased and inaccurate.

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Will Jobs Bill Give States More Healthcare Reform Funding?

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

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Many states are hoping that the jobs bill currently pending in Congress will include increased funding for implementing healthcare reform.

The legislation requires them to expand eligibility for Medicaid among one of its strategies for expanding access to affordable health insurance. However, the recession has made states cash-strapped and unable to afford it.

As a result, they are seeking to extend the increased federal subsidies provided to them in last year’s stimulus package. They have already budgeted for the six-month extension during the next fiscal year, although its passage certainly isn’t guaranteed.

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WellPoint Stops Dropping Sick Patients from Health Insurance

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

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After pressure from the Obama administration, WellPoint has agreed to quit dropping policyholders from their health insurance plans once they get sick.

Although the law only bans rescission six months from now, recent controversies have resulted in some demanding action earlier. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius congratulated WellPoint on their quick action, and hopes that other companies follow suit in implementing affordable health insurance reform.

The new guidelines will become effective on May 1st.

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Healthcare Reform Finally Passes

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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It was down to the wire, but the Obama administration managed to do it: last night, the House of Representatives passed comprehensive healthcare reform. The legislation was victorious of 219 to 212, three votes over the needed threshold of 216. As expected, it did not receive a single Republican vote.

The bill will give a makeover to America’s health insurance system. It will be easier for people with pre-existing conditions to buy health insurance plans, and provide subsidies to the uninsured. In Obama’s words, “this is what change looks like,” for better or worse. Somewhat ironically, he called it an example of government for and by the people, when a slight majority of those polled are against the bill (although they are in favor of certain individual elements).

Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court. They must pass an agreed-upon package of budget-related modifications through the reconciliation process. With 59 members of the Democratic caucus, it will probably succeed.

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Repubicans Plan to Repeal Health Bill

Thursday, March 18th, 2010


The health bill is no sure bet yet. White House officials are still trying to get a handful of needed votes to pass the bill. But dozens of Republicans have already signed a pledge to repeal the bill should GOP take control of either House or Congress after this falls election.

Democrats managed to gain support from Rep. Dennis Kucinich; the liberal lawmaker had first opposed the bill because it didn’t include a pubic option. He had a change of heart and agreed to the President’s notion that the health bill was just the beginning of a slew of changes to come.

To start with, President Obama’s plan will immediately provide access to health insurance coverage for nearly all Americans and prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to the sick.

Republicans still believe the President should scrap his plan to overhaul the health system and and start afresh. The GOP “Repeal It” movement first started back in January and has picked up momentum as Obama’s bill has gained Congressional popularity. Some Republicans believe if the bill is passed Democrats will lose popularity among voters and will pay the price in the November elections.

Lawmakers on both sides acknowledge any repeal would be highly unlikely as long as Obama remains in office, as he could veto any such legislation.

House Democrats say they are on track for a Sunday vote on the health care bill that will expand medical coverage to millions.

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Historical Health Bill Vote Nearing?

Friday, March 12th, 2010

President Obama is making a final push for his overhaul healthcare plan. White House say they will call for a vote as soon as next week. Some Republicans say the President has missed a number of deadlines for the healthcare bill, and aren’t convinced he will meet the current one. But, if by chance the legislation is passed it will be a historic moment that will change the lives of many Americans who can’t afford medical insurance.

Here is a list of highlights as posted by the Washington Post.

-HOW MANY COVERED: 31 million uninsured Americans.

-INSURANCE MANDATE: Like the bills approved last year by the House and Senate, the proposal would require almost everyone to be insured or pay a fine. There is an exemption for low-income people.

-INSURANCE MARKET REFORMS: Stops unpopular insurance industry practices such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charging women more. In response to recent insurance premium rate increases, including increases as high as 39 percent by Anthem Blue Cross in California, the legislation adopts an Obama proposal to give the federal government the authority to block rate hikes, roll back premium prices and force insurance companies to give rebates to consumers.
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-MEDICAID: The legislation would expand the federal-state Medicaid insurance program for the poor to cover people with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, $29,327 a year for a family of four. The federal government would pick up more of the tab, paying 100 percent of the cost for newly eligible individuals through 2017. A special deal that would have given Nebraska 100 percent federal financing for newly eligible Medicaid recipients in perpetuity has been eliminated. A different, one-time deal negotiated by Sen. Mary Landrieu for her state, Louisiana, worth as much as $300 million, remained.

-TAXES: The legislation would scale back a Senate-passed tax on high-cost insurance plans that was opposed by House Democrats and labor unions. The tax would be delayed from 2013 until 2018 and the thresholds at which it is imposed would be moved up from policies worth $8,500 for individuals and $23,000 for families, to $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families. Those changes mean $120 billion in lost revenue over 10 years that would be replaced mostly by applying an increased Medicare payroll tax to investment income as well as wages for individuals making more than $200,000, or married couples above $250,000. The Senate bill had applied the tax only to wage income.

-PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: The proposal would close the “doughnut hole” coverage gap in the Medicare prescription drug benefit that kicks in once seniors have spent $2,830. The Senate bill would have provided a 50 percent discount on the cost of brand-name drugs in the doughnut hole but Obama would close the gap entirely by 2020. The added cost, which Democrats have not yet disclosed, would be paid for in part by an additional $10 billion in fees on the drug industry.

-EMPLOYER RESPONSIBILITY: The legislation keeps the approach in the Senate bill, which doesn’t require businesses to offer coverage but charges fees to companies with more than 50 employees if the government subsidizes employees’ coverage. The proposal increases the fees to $2,000 per worker instead of $750, but grants companies an allowance that was not part of the original Senate plan. The proposal includes part-time workers in the calculations, counting two part-time workers as one full-time worker.

-SUBSIDIES: The proposal provides more generous subsidies for purchasing insurance than the Senate bill did. The aid is available for households making up to four times the federal poverty level ($88,000 for a family of four).

-HOW YOU CHOOSE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE: Small businesses, the self-employed and the uninsured could pick a plan offered through new state-based purchasing pools called exchanges. People working for big companies would not see major changes.

-GOVERNMENT-RUN PLAN: The proposal does not include the government-run insurance plan sought by liberals and approved by the House. It takes the Senate approach, which gives Americans purchasing coverage through new insurance exchanges the option of signing up for national plans overseen by the federal office that manages the government health plan available to members of Congress. Those plans would be private, but one would have to be nonprofit.

-ABORTION: The proposal does not change the abortion provision in the Senate bill, which is opposed by anti-abortion groups that say it allows federal financing of abortion. The bill tries to maintain a strict separation between taxpayer dollars and private premiums that would pay for abortion coverage.

No health plan would be required to offer coverage for the procedure. In plans that do cover abortion, beneficiaries would have to pay for it separately, and that money would have to be kept in a separate account from taxpayer money. States could ban abortion coverage in plans offered through the exchange. Exceptions would be made for cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.
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Scott Brown Warns Democrats Against Passing Healthcare Reform

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

(Image: Boston.com)

New Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown has largely stayed under the radar since his election in January, although the impact of his win has reached far and wide. With 41 seats in the Senate, Republicans can now use the filibuster. The Obama administration has now resorted to pushing for budget reconciliation to avoid that and pass affordable health insurance reforms.

Brown thinks that wouldn’t be a smart move. He sees his victory as a message America is sending to Washington: kill the current bill. Whether or not the newly proposed changes (which include a handful of Republican proposals) are any more appealing to him than the bill he previously ran against is unknown, but the process by which they would become law appears somewhat unseemly. According to Brown, his state will be especially hurt, largely because there has already been Massachusetts health insurance reform–they’ll be subsidizing other states that didn’t take those steps, when it should be each state’s individual decision. Like many GOP politicians, he believes that Democrats will face massive losses in the fall elections if they go it alone and ignore their wishes.

President Obama has said that healthcare reform can’t wait, and that he is willing to be a one-term president in order to achieve the goals that he feels have been neglected by previous administrations. Do congressional Democrats have the same lack of self-preservation?

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