Republicans Plan To Chip Away At Health Law; Senators Call For Insurance Rate HearingsThe New York Times: Republicans are hopeful they can pick up enough seats in November's midterm elections to chip away at the new health law. "This goal, though not fleshed out in a detailed legislative proposal, is much more than a campaign slogan. That conclusion emerged from interviews with a wide range of Republican lawmakers, who said they were determined to chip away at the law if they could not dismantle it." Republicans are expected to release specifics of the plan Thursday. "For starters, Republicans say they will try to withhold money that federal officials need to administer and enforce the law. They know that even if they managed to pass a wholesale repeal, Mr. Obama would veto it." Some things the GOP is likely to try to do include going after provisions that would require many employers to offer insurance or face a penalty, require most Americans to have insurance and limit the money available to the Internal Revenue Service to hire new agents to enforce the tax penalties. But Republicans themselves don't expect to gain the supermajorities needed to overcome President Barack Obama's nearly certain vetoes and they can't themselves agree on what to replace the law with (Pear, 9/20).
KHN earlier, related coverage: GOP Plan To Change Or Repeal Health Law Could Bring New Complications (Carey, 9/20).
Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said that "[p]oliticians pushing to scuttle the national health care overhaul program are trying to rob middle-class Americans of a huge tax cut," the Des Moines Register reports. "During Monday's conference call [sponsored by consumer group Families USA], Harkin also lauded portions of the law that have gone into effect or will do so this week." He also touted tax credits for people to afford health coverage. But Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who is helping lead the charge to repeal the law, said "he wonders how many of the scheduled beneficiaries of the tax credits pay income taxes now. He noted that many low-income Americans pay little or no income tax. The health-insurance tax credits would be 'refundable,' meaning families could get them even if they are worth more than the families pay in taxes. 'Refundable tax credits are income redistribution,' King said. "'They're not tax cuts'" (Leys, 9/21).
CQ Politics: Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee are asking for a hearing on health insurance rate increases. "Several insurers have recently announced sharp increases in premiums for small businesses and those who buy insurance in the individual market, blaming the increases on the cost of new benefits mandated by the law. But Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says insurers are using the law as a convenient excuse for rate hikes. HHS estimates the law would increase premiums by no more than 1 percent or 2 percent across the board. The hearing request, and others like it, might provide a preview of what Republican-controlled committees are likely to focus on if the GOP takes control in the next Congress" (9/20).
The Wall Street Journal: Senate Democrats are also joining the fight on insurance rate hikes. "Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller sent letters warning five insurance companies against telling consumers their rates are going up because of new mandates in the health law. 'This level of misinformation is not acceptable,' the Democratic senators wrote. This letter specifically asks the insurers to explain how adding some new benefits like allowing children to stay on their parents insurance until their 26th birthday costs so much more than the Obama administration predicted. State regulators have said that some insurers seem to be guessing at the additional costs" (Adamy, 9/20).
The Hill: "Those increases, the lawmakers wrote to WellPoint, UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, Health Care Services Corp., and CIGNA, are 'unnecessary' and 'unjustified' in the face of reports that the companies are also churning large profits. The insurance companies have defended their premium hikes, arguing that simple economics dictate that consumers will have to pay more to get more benefits" (Lillis, 9/20).
Reuters: "'Health plans will continue to do everything they can to implement the new law in a way that minimizes disruption and keeps coverage as affordable as possible for individuals, families and employers,' Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans organization, said in a statement. 'Political attacks won't do anything to make coverage more affordable for working families and small businesses that are struggling in a slow economy,' Zirkelbach said" (Krauskopf and Berkrot, 9/21).