On October 13, the Senate Finance Committee voted to approve its bill on health care reform by a vote of 14-9. While lacking wide bipartisan agreement the measure did attract one Republican vote, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Senator Snowe joined all the Democrats on the committee to vote in favor of the measure.
The Senate Finance Committee proposal requires employers to offer coverage which is “affordable” to employees and which covers at least 65% of their premiums. The definition of affordability will be based on a sliding scale but cannot be more than 10% of an employee’s income. While the bill excludes a “public option”, it creates state-based markets for health insurance called exchanges, expands coverage under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and restricts health-plan practices deemed abusive, such as denying coverage based on preexisting conditions.
Legislative Procedure/Congressional Action
The next process is to merge the Senate Finance bill with the Senate HELP Committee bill, authored by the late Senator Ted Kennedy. The merger process is currently scheduled to run until at least the middle of next week. Once the merger is complete, legislative language will be drafted so that the Congressional Budget Office can analyze the legislation to determine the cost of the bill prior to any Senate floor action. Floor debate is tentatively scheduled to begin the week of October 26th, but will most likely be delayed for several weeks. If the merged bill cannot attain the 60 votes needed to pass the bill, the Senate will most likely enter into a reconcilliation process where only 51 votes are needed for passage.
In the House of Representatives, members are also working to merge their committee’s bills. Bills from the Ways & Means, Education & Labor and Energy & Commerce Committees that passed earlier this year now need to be combined by House leadership. This process is set to be completed sometime later this month. The bill will then be presented to the Rules Committee which will approve a “manager’s amendment” – the merged bill. The House will then vote on the “manager’s amendment.”
Any differences in the House and Senate bills will be resolved in a conference committee. Once completed, the bill will be sent to the President for his signature.
The procedures described below are very time consuming and technical. However, passage of this bill with any of the proposed employer mandates can and will be very detrimental to your business.
Related Reading at DDIFO: Legislative Update from the CFA – Summer Recess 2009