Filed Under:Health Insurance, Individual Health

Reform Ignores Employer Needs, Groups Say

The Senate is ignoring the interests of the current employer-based health care insurance system in its draft of reform legislation, officials of 2 trade groups are telling the Senate leadership.

Officials of the National Association of Health Underwriters and the American Benefits Council made their comments as the Senate prepared to vote on the health care measure before leaving for the Christmas recess.

"We are still working with a few senators who have not made a commitment, and until those commitments and votes are made, we are going to keep working," Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Senate majority whip, said after Senate Democrats met with President Obama at the White House Tuesday.

"I think ultimately we will pass it before Christmas," he said.

Late Tuesday, the Senate rejected 2 prescription drug amendments, both of which failed to reach a previously agreed-upon 60-vote threshold.

Passage of the first amendment would have derailed the bill because pharmaceutical companies, who are key supporters, would have abandoned support if the amendment had passed.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., would have allowed the reimportation of prescription drugs. It failed, although it received 51 votes for vs. 48 against.

Another amendment that would have allowed reimportation of prescription drugs under extremely high safety standards also failed, 56-43.

In general, "employers feel that their issues with respect to the employer mandates and taxes are being lost in the public option, abortion echo chamber," said John Greene, vice president of congressional affairs for the National Association of Health Underwriters.

Jobs are at stake, he said.

"Unfortunately, if the bill passes in its present form, jobs will be lost or not offered, particularly in the lower income levels, and the overall effect will be to slow down the recovery as employers sort out what the impact of the final bill has on their plans to expand next year," Greene said.

In a letter to all members of the Senate, James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, also voiced concern.

"Legislation must not destabilize employer-sponsored coverage by making it more costly or burdensome," he wrote. He added that "the vast majority of employers want to continue providing health coverage for their employees but might no longer be able to do so when faced with unrealistic new requirements or financial commitments."

Without significant improvements, "we will have no alternative but to oppose the legislation as it is considered further by the Senate," he said.

His concerns included provisions designed to raise revenue to cover the cost of insuring another 33 million Americans, as the Democrats who are pushing the legislation say it will do.

Revenue provisions currently called for in the bill include a tax on retiree drug subsidies as well as provision imposing annual taxes on insurers, self-insured plans and other healthcare providers and suppliers.

Klein also asked that the tax on so-called Cadillac plans be made fairer and "less disruptive." He also said employers oppose limits on their flexibility to determine benefits and contributions and believe "meaningful" tort reform is a must.

Klein noted that the Congressional Budget Office recently confirmed that there would be substantial savings to the federal government if liability reform were included as part of health reform legislation and that the savings in the private marketplace would be even greater than those for the federal government.

"Responsible health reform legislation simply must not ignore this pressing issue," he said.

He also criticized CLASS, or Community Living Assistance Supports and Services Act, which would set up a new entitlement, a long term care insurance program.

"We believe that the CLASS Act and other approaches to meeting these needs should be more thoroughly examined by Congress before the establishment of a major new entitlement obligation for the federal government," Klein said.

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