KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

House Passes Health Bill For 9/11 Workers, Grandfathering Resolution Fails In Senate

The Hill's Healthwatch Blog: The House Wednesday approved a bill to cover the health care costs for emergency workers who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "The tally was 268 to 160, with 17 Republicans supporting the measure and three Democrats voting against it. … House passage followed months of contentious debate over whether the federal government has an obligation to pay emergency workers sickened by the smoke, debris and toxic fumes caused by the attacks of 9/11. Democrats have argued that treating those workers is the least the country can do to compensate their service following the disaster." The proposal, passed just before the House adjourned to campaign for the November elections, would cost $7.4 billion. Lawmakers are proposing to pay for it by "tweaking tax law to end certain breaks for foreign-based corporate subsidiaries operating in the U.S." A GOP alternative that would have cut back funding for the workers' care was voted down (Lillis, 9/29).

The Associated Press/The Washington Times: "It was a second showdown for the bill, which failed to pass in a July vote. New York lawmakers have been pushing such a measure for years. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate" (9/29).

The Wall Street Journal: President Barack Obama has promised to sign the bill if it reaches his desk. "New York's two Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, said they would press for a vote in the so-called lame-duck session after the November elections." In the House, "Democrats had feared a different [Republican] amendment, one which would have barred illegal immigrants who worked at Ground Zero from receiving benefits from the program. Such a proposal was viewed by many Democrats to be so politically explosive that they had contemplated pulling the entire bill if such an amendment was offered" (Barrett, 9/30).

CongressDaily, on other news from Capitol Hill: Senate Democrats stopped by a 59-40 vote an attempt by Republicans "to begin a piece-by-piece repeal of the healthcare law, defeating a resolution that would roll back an HHS rule on how new regulations apply to health insurance plans that existed before the overhaul bill was signed into law." The resolution, offered by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., targeted the "grandfathering" rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. That regulation "allows plans that existed before March 23 ... to be exempt from certain consumer protections enacted in the law, as long as plans do not significantly reduce benefits or raise consumer costs."

Enzi, who noted HHS estimates that indicate a minority of plans will keep their grandfathered status through 2013, said that "the rule breaks President Obama's frequent promise that Americans could keep their health insurance if they liked it, and would subsequently force businesses to either pay more for health insurance or drop coverage" (McCarthy, 9/29).

The Hill's Healthwatch Blog, in a separate story: The White House released a statement hours before the vote on the Enzi resolution that voiced the administration's disapproval of the resolution. "'By dismantling the Interim Final Rule that set out the conditions under which health plans can qualify for 'grandfather' status, the resolution would limit individuals' and businesses' choice to keep the plan they had in place when the Affordable Care Act was enacted,' the statement of policy reads" (Pecquet, 9/29).

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