Weekly ‘On the Hill’ Update

An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation issued Thursday concludes that most employers will continue to have an economic reason to offer health insurance to their workers after the health care law is implemented. It says that a “sharp decline” in employment-based insurance as a result of the law is “unlikely,” and even if it occurred it “would not dramatically increase the cost” to the federal budget.  A new study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) said the job loss caused by the recession has accelerated a long-term trend of fewer Americans having employment-based health insurance. They cited a 10-percentage-point drop in the number of children and working-age adults with coverage through the workplace from 2007 to 2010. The CBO issued updated projections earlier this week that said that about 3 million to 5 million fewer people would get health coverage through their employers in 2019 through 2022 compared to current law.

 

Four Republican senators on Thursday unveiled a plan that would transition Medicare enrollees into the same health care program offered to federal employees while gradually increasing the eligibility age and requiring wealthier seniors to pay more. The proposal arrives less than a week before House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R, WI), is expected to release his own Medicare overhaul plan in a fiscal 2013 budget proposal. The plan — from Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint — would allow seniors to enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program beginning in 2014. Under that program, all individuals in a given plan pay the same premium, and plans must accept any enrollees. The measure would phase out the existing Medicare program over an unspecified period of time, according to a fact sheet. Instead, seniors would be able to choose from the widest selection of health care plans in the country — the same option that federal employees have. The plan would gradually shift the eligibility age for seniors by three months annually until it reaches 70 in 2034. Wealthier seniors would pay a greater percentage of the costs, and Medicaid would provide assistance to low-income seniors, according to the fact sheet.  Republican staff members estimated that the plan would reduce the deficit by $1 trillion over 10 years and reduce Medicare’s gap between the cost of promised benefits and its revenue from taxes and premiums by almost $16 trillion over a 75-year window. They also said the bill would save individual enrollees $1,500 per year in out-of-pocket costs.

Home health care workers would be guaranteed overtime pay and minimum wage under a long-awaited rule the Labor Department is expected to soon make final, despite objections from industry and some lawmakers. The regulation would change a 1975 labor rule that exempted “companionship services” from wage and overtime requirements. Although the original intent was to ease expenses for families seeking company for their homebound elderly or disabled relatives, advocates of the change say the provision is outdated. Most families now get workers from private agencies that have used the exemption to lower their labor costs, proponents of the change say. Under the proposal, home health care employers would no longer be able to claim the wage and overtime exemption. Families and individuals still would be able to, however, under a narrower definition of the job. Most home care workers are already paid minimum wage. The proposed rule would primarily increase overtime pay. While the Obama administration is moving forward with the proposed rule, House lawmakers are planning more hearings on the issue, at which industry representatives will continue to press their case. Still, even opponents acknowledge that the changes have significant momentum.

The Week Ahead…

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, March 21 titled “Harnessing American Resources to Create Jobs and Address Rising Gasoline Prices: Families and Cost-of-Life Impacts.”  For more information, please see http://naturalresources.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=284228

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday, March 22 titled “Stay-At-Work and Back-to-Work Strategies: Lessons from the Private Sector.” For more information, please see http://www.help.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=15e2384e-5056-9502-5dae-0e592cbdcf17

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