House Passes Health Care Reform
Retail groups voice opposition; Senate legislation faces even tougher battle
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962), which its supporters say "will slow the growth in out-of-control health costs and introduce competition into the health care marketplace to keep coverage affordable and insurers honest. Additionally, it will protect people's choices of doctors and health plans, and assure all Americans have access to quality, stable, affordable health care."
Republicans call it a "government takeover that increases costs, adds to our skyrocketing debt, destroys jobs [image-nocss] with tax hikes and new mandates and cuts seniors' Medicare benefits."
The vote passed 220 to 215 with 39 Democrats voting against the bill, and one Republican supporting the sweeping plan, Representative Joseph Cao (D-La.), a first-term Republican who holds an overwhelmingly Democratic seat, reported ABC News.
"Oh, what a night!" Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) proudly proclaimed at a press conference immediately following passage of the health care bill.
Republicans cataloged their objections across hours of debate on the 2,000-page, $1.2 trillion legislation. "We are going to have a complete government takeover of our health care system faster than you can say, 'This is making me sick,'" Rep. Candice Miller, (R-Mich.), said of the bill, adding that Democrats were intent on passing a "jobs-killing, tax-hiking, deficit-exploding" bill.
House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "Americans want a common-sense approach to health care reform, not Speaker Nancy Pelosi's...government takeover that increases costs, adds to our skyrocketing debt, destroys jobs with tax hikes and new mandates and cuts seniors' Medicare benefits. Americans asking where are the jobs?' are getting more of the same from out-of-touch Washington Democrats: more spending, more debt and more government."
He added, "Republicans have better solutions to lower costs and expand access to quality careespecially for those with pre-existing conditionswithout adding to the crushing debt Washington has placed on our children and grandchildren. Our plan will lower premiums by up to 10%, making health care more affordable for families and small businesses. That's what the American people want, and that's what Republicans will continue to fight for."
The House passage of health care reform now moves attention to the Senate, where two bills have moved through committee and Majority Leader Harry Reid must rally support for a single, unified bill, said the report.
The glow from a health care triumph faded quickly as Democrats realized the bill they fought so hard to pass in the House has nowhere to go in the Senate, said an Associated Press report. The government health insurance plan included in the House bill is unacceptable to a few Democratic moderates who hold the balance of power in the Senate, it said.
If a government plan is part of the deal, "as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote," Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), whose vote Democrats need to overcome GOP filibusters, said on "Fox News Sunday."
"The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has yet to schedule floor debate and hinted last week that senators may not be able to finish health care this year. Reid will keep meeting with senators to see if he can work out a political formula that will give him not only the 60 votes needed to begin debate, but the 60 needed to shut off discussion and bring the bill to a final vote.
Both the House and Senate bills gradually would extend coverage to nearly all Americans by providing government subsidies to help pay premiums. The measures would bar insurers' practices such as charging more to those in poor health or denying them coverage altogether.
All Americans would be required to carry health insurance, either through an employer, a government plan or by purchasing it on their own.
To keep down costs, the government subsidies and consumer protections do not take effect until 2013. During the three-year transition, both bills would provide $5 billion in federal dollars to help get coverage for people with medical problems who are turned down by private insurers.
Both House and Senate would expand significantly the federal-state Medicaid health program for low-income people.
There are several major differences between the bills, AP said. The House would require employers to provide coverage; the Senate does not. The House would pay for the coverage expansion by raising taxes on upper-income earners; the Senate uses a variety of taxes and fees, including a levy on high-cost insurance plans. The House plan costs about $1.2 trillion over 10 years; the Senate version is under $900 billion.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) on Friday asked the House to reject health care reform legislation. The "NRF adamantly opposes employer mandates of any type, whether pay-or-play, set penalty or 'free-rider' in nature," NRF senior vice president for government relations Steve Pfister said in a letter to Pelosi, Boehner and House members. "Employer mandates are fundamentally inconsistent with good health care reform, and it is an economic certainty that if labor costs significantly increase, retailerswho operate on razor thin profit marginswill have no choice but to reduce the size of their workforces."
He added, "Employer mandates of any kind amount to a direct tax on jobs, and we can think of few steps that would be more dangerous to take in the middle of our present economic difficulty. Our economy needs to grow through job creation, not to have double-digit unemployment numbers further exacerbated."
Pfister also expressed concern about a "public option" government-run insurance plan that would reimburse doctors and hospitals at less than market rates, leaving private insurance plans paid for by employers to pick up the difference, lack of serious malpractice reform, and the legislation's proposal to limit grandfathering of existing group health plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act to five years, which would limit employers' flexibility during the period and greatly increase coverage costs at the end of the period.
The legislation includes a pay-or-play mandate that would require employers to pay 72.5% of premium costs for individual coverage for both full-time and part-time workers and 60% for family coverage. Those who fail to do so would be required to pay a new payroll tax of 8%.
NRF has outlined its own plans to bring health care costs under control in the "NRF Vision for Health Care Reform," available at www.nrf.com/healthcare.
And as the House prepared to vote on health care legislation, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) communicated its concerns with members of Congress. "NACS maintains its strong opposition to the employer mandate, the surtax on the wealthy and the public option," the group said in its "Washington Report."
NACS sent two letters to Capitol Hill reiterating the industry's concerns with the House proposal. Thefirst letter is a joint effort on the part of the Small Business Coalition for Affordable Health Care. Thesecond letter is from NACS president and CEO Hank Armour.
Click herefor the House Committee on Energy & Commerce Affordable Health Care for America Act webpage, with links the full text of the bill, fact sheets and more.