KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

House Dems Unveil 1,000 Page Health Bill, Complete With Surtaxes On The Wealthy

"House Democrats unveiled ambitious legislation Tuesday to remake the nation's health care system and called on medical providers, businesses and the wealthiest Americans to pick up the tab for President Barack Obama's top domestic priority," the Associated Press reports. "'This bill is a starting point and a path to success,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told a news conference where she and other Democratic leaders promised to pass a bill before the August congressional recess. Obama has pushed the House and Senate aggressively to stick to the timetable, in hopes of signing comprehensive legislation in October."

The draft House bill, which runs over 1,000 pages, "imposes penalties on employers who fail to provide health insurance for their workers and on individuals who refuse to buy it," but includes "federal subsidies for poorer individuals and families to help them afford coverage. … Employers who do not offer coverage would be required to pay 8 percent of each uninsured worker's salary, with exemptions for smaller firms built into the legislation. Individuals who refused to buy affordable coverage would be assessed as much as 2.5 percent of their adjusted gross income, up to the cost of an average health insurance plan, according to the legislation."

"The bill, to be debated in committee beginning later this week, also would require insurance companies to offer coverage, without exceptions or higher premiums in cases of pre-existing medical conditions. It also would allow the government to sell insurance in competition with private firms, a provision that has sparked objections from Republicans and even some Democrats" (Espo and Werner, 7/14).

Financing the healthcare overhaul will come from surtaxes on the wealthy, ranging from "an additional tax of 1 percent levied on those couples earning more than $350,000" up to "an extra 5.4 percent tax on those earning more than $1 million," Reuters reports. "One congressional aide said that would bring the top tax rate for the wealthy to 45 percent."   

"Among the changes for the Medicare program for the elderly and disabled is a focus on ways to use reimbursement rates to improve quality of care rather than reward quantity of care. The legislation would establish a commission to examine reducing disparities in reimbursements in different regions of the country" (Smith, Dixon and Frank, 7/14).

The Hill: Obama applauded the House bill, saying in a written statement, "The House proposal will begin the process of fixing what's broken about our health care system, reducing costs for all, building on what works, and covering an estimated 97 percent of all Americans. … And by emphasizing prevention and wellness, it will also help improve the quality of health care for every American" (Youngman, 7/14).

Washington Times: "House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, has said the bill would become 'the hallmark issue of this Congress.' He has also told reporters he expects the mark-up process to be completed this week -- an ambitious plan" (Haberkorn, 7/14).


Kaiser Health News Correspondent Eric Pianin discusses the bill with Jackie Judd.

Listen to Interview (mp3)

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