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Senate bill would fine those refusing health coverage

Friday, July 3, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Americans who refuse to buy affordable medical coverage could be hit with fines of more than $1,000 under a health-care overhaul bill unveiled Thursday by key Senate Democrats looking to fulfill President Obama's top domestic priority.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the fines will raise around $36 billion over 10 years. Senate aides said the penalties would be modeled on the approach taken by Massachusetts, which now imposes a fine of about $1,000 a year on individuals who refuse to get coverage. Under the federal legislation, families would pay higher penalties than individuals.

In a revamped health-care system envisioned by lawmakers, people would be required to carry health insurance just like motorists must get auto coverage now. The government would provide subsidies for the poor and many middle-class families, but those who still refuse to sign up would face penalties.

Called "shared responsibility payments," the fines would be set at least half the cost of basic medical coverage, according to the legislation.

In 2008, employer-provided coverage averaged $12,680 a year for a family plan, and $4,704 for individual coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's annual survey. Senate aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the cost of the federal plan would be lower but declined to provide specifics.

Through tax system

The legislation would exempt certain hardship cases from fines. The fines would be collected through the income tax system.

The new proposals were released as Congress neared the end of a weeklong July 4 break, with lawmakers expected to quickly take up health-care legislation when they return to Washington. With divisions along partisan and ideological lines, the complex legislation faces an uncertain future.

Obama wants a bill this year that would provide coverage to the nearly 50 million Americans who lack it and reduce medical costs.

In a statement, Obama welcomed the legislation, saying it "reflects many of the principles I've laid out, such as reforms that will prohibit insurance companies from refusing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and the concept of insurance exchanges where individuals can find affordable coverage if they lose their jobs, move or get sick."

The Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions bill also calls for a government-run insurance option to compete with private plans as well as a $750-per-worker annual fee on larger companies that do not offer coverage to employees.

Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said in a letter to colleagues that their revised plan would cost dramatically less than an earlier, incomplete proposal, and help show the way toward coverage for 97 percent of all Americans.

In a conference call with reporters, Dodd said the revised bill had brought "historic reform of health care" closer. He said the bill's public option will bring coverage and benefit decisions driven "not by what generates the biggest profits, but by what works best for American families."

The two senators said the Congressional Budget Office put the cost of the proposal at $611.4 billion over 10 years, down from $1 trillion two weeks ago.

However, the total cost of legislation will rise considerably once provisions are added to subsidize health insurance for the poor through Medicaid. Those additions, needed to ensure coverage for nearly all U.S. residents, are being handled by a separate panel, the Senate Finance Committee. Bipartisan talks on the Finance panel aim to hold the overall price tag to $1 trillion.

The Health Committee could complete its portion of the bill as soon as next week, and the presence of a government health insurance option virtually assures a party-line vote.

In the Senate, the Finance Committee version of the bill is unlikely to include a government-run insurance option. Bipartisan negotiations are centered on a proposal for a nonprofit insurance cooperative as a competitor to private companies.

Three committees are collaborating in the House on legislation expected to come to a vote by the end of July. That measure is certain to include a government-run insurance option.

At their heart, all the bills would require insurance companies to sell coverage to any applicant, without charging higher premiums for pre-existing medical conditions. The poor and some middle-class families would qualify for government subsidies to help with the cost of coverage. The government's costs would be covered by a combination of higher taxes and cuts in projected Medicare and Medicaid spending.

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This is unbelievable or should be! Who says what is affordable? In some parts of the country people don't make as much money as in others! What is affordable in Los Angeles might be well beyond the budget of someone who lives in the Ozarks! Talk about jamming something down our throats! Big Brother is going to "take care" of us!

All the while they don't do anything about the real cause of high priced medicine! Malpractice lawsuits, are the problem or 98% of it! If a doctor has to pay 6 figures for insurance, that money has to come from somewhere. Well guess what, it comes from you and me. If they want to do something about the high cost of healthcare, change the legal system. Looser pays to start with, no punitive damages allowed, only actual damages, if there are any. Many people tend to forget, what if you had not gone to that doctor or hospital to start with? Would you already be dead or crippled for life? Lets face it "stuff" happens, none of us even know we will wake up in the morning! Lets think about this and let our legislators know we don't care if they are lawyers trying to butter their own bread!

Fix the legal system and that will almost single handedly fix the health insurance problems!

-- Posted by Walkenstick on Fri, Jul 3, 2009, at 5:28 AM


In favor of public option...72%

Let's cancel all of congresses and senates insurance and see how fast they move. I don't imagine any of them have ever been denied care from their insurance carrier because of who they are. Agree?

-- Posted by howdydoody on Fri, Jul 3, 2009, at 7:22 AM

Agreed, howdydoody.

I see such a lot in this proposal that is flawed ... beginning with the government 'plan' to rely on the fact that many people might not 'sign up,' therefore depending upon those fines to help finance the health care 'plan.'

Then ... "... insurance companies to sell coverage to any applicant, without charging higher premiums for pre-existing medical conditions ..." which means that insurance companies would probably have to raise rates for everyone, rather than just higher premiums for pre-existing ...

And on to ... poor and some middle-class families would qualify for government subsidies... The government's costs would be covered by a combination of higher taxes and cuts in projected Medicare and Medicaid spending.

Higher taxes and cuts in Medicare and Medicaid spending?

Sorry to sound rather heartless, but as a senior with Medicare, I deeply resent the idea of having spent decades of working and paying into Medicare, now paying the premiums for B & D & Supplements because Medicare is an insufficient 'insurance' on its own ... and then having our government consider health benefits cuts and paying even higher taxes in order to finance health coverage for 1) the 'poor' who already now qualify for Medicaid; 2) 'some' middle-class families who could probably do without a few non-necessities (as many seniors have done in their lifetimes) in order to buy insurance.

For all the people who are nodding and getting excited about these proposals ... your elected politicians are once again hoodwinking you. Try to remember that we often see statements regarding Medicaid and/or Medicare as being drains on our government budget, and that they (but particlulary Medicaid) are flawed programs in many ways. Then consider that you are actually agreeing that the federal government could 'do better' with an even larger health care program--one that will become law for all our population, but in actuality is primarily designed to assist the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans.

The only thing our government should perhaps be considering on the health care issue is how to cover those 50 million ... not the other 250 million or so who do have coverage through various other means.

-- Posted by gurusmom on Fri, Jul 3, 2009, at 12:22 PM

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