The House Education and Labor Committee completed its consideration of HR 3200 this week after just 20 hours of work. The 1,018-page bill, which would overhaul a sector of the economy the size of Great Britain, was rushed through to meet House Speaker Pelosi’s earlier goal of getting the massive measure to the House Floor before the August recess. That goal is no longer achievable.
Here are some key decisions made by the Committee and how they will affect ordinary Americans:
Special Treatment for Socialized Medicine. (Kucinich Amendment text) Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) won Committee support for an amendment that would allow a state to get an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) waiver if they set up a single-payer system in the state. The state-based single payer system would operate in lieu of the National Health Exchange and public insurance option embodied in House bill. Under the Kucinich amendment, a state could override ERISA, federal law governing self-insured companies. It is worth noting that for Americans in such a state who liked and wanted to keep their private health insurance- a promise President Obama has made repeatedly- that promise would be nullified under the Committee amendment. It is also worth noting that the Committee did not provide for any other policy option for states, including free market options, except the adoption of a state-based system of socialized medicine.
Job Losses. (Hoekstra Amendment text) The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the current national unemployment rate is 9.7 percent. But the House bill has an employer “pay-or-play” mandate, which include a tax on employers of up to 8 percent if they do not offer a federally approved benefits package to their workers. Economists note that taxes on employers are generally passed on to employees in reduced wages or other compensation, including job loss. To forestall the impact of the House bill on employment levels, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) introduced an amendment that would suspend employer mandate provisions if the national unemployment rate equaled or exceeded 8 percent for 2 consecutive months. The Hoekstra amendment failed in Committee on a voice vote.
Deficits. (McClintock Amendment text) President Obama has repeatedly stated that he wants to sign health care legislation that is “deficit-neutral.” In order to ensure that objective, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) offered an amendment that would prevent major provisions of the bill from being enacted, or implemented, if the Director of the Office of Management and Budget found that they were not deficit-neutral. This amendment also failed in Committee. Meanwhile, Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Elmendorf stated that the House health care legislation “significantly expands the federal responsibility for health care costs.”
Taxpayer-Funded Abortion. (Souder group health Amendment text, Souder taxpayer funded abortion ban Amendment text) The House bill, as currently drafted, allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services to outline the minimum benefits that must be included in any health plan. There is no specific provision in the bill that would require insurance coverage of abortion. However, since the decisions over benefits are left to the Secretary of HHS, with recommendations from a newly created Health Care Benefits Advisory Committee, there is nothing to prevent the current or future Secretary from including abortion coverage in Americans’ health insurance. That is why a number of prominent pro-life Democrats in the House of Representatives have insisted that there be a provision to prevent taxpayer-financed abortion in the House bill. Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) offered two amendments: one that would prevent requirements to cover abortions in group health plans and another that would prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortions. The Committee defeated both amendments. In other words, the federal government could mandate that abortions be covered by health insurance plans available through the national health insurance exchange.
Gutting Worker Choice. (Kline Amendment text) The key issue in the emerging health care debate is the validity of the President’s promise that Americans who like their coverage would be able to keep it. Rep. John Kline (R-MN) proposed an amendment to give employees greater say regarding the preservation of their employer-sponsored health insurance. The Kline amendment would allow employees to conduct an annual referendum to determine if their company should be subject to the employer mandate provisions currently attached to the bill. The amendment was soundly defeated, with 28 Democratic members voting no.
The Doctor-Patient Relationship. (Price Amendment text) Under the House bill, the federal government would determine what benefits must be included in an “acceptable” health insurance plan. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) offered an amendment to ensure that patients would be able to contract privately with doctors and other health care providers, even if such procedures fell outside of the guidelines for health plans in the newly created national health insurance exchange or the public insurance option. The Price amendment passed on a voice vote.
The House and Senate health care bills will dramatically change the health insurance market, and the federal government would determine the kind of medical care Americans can receive. The Education and Labor Committee has finished its work. Other provisions will be completed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee before the bill goes to a final House floor vote after the August recess.
This post was co-authored by Julius Chen.