Senate Finance Chairman Baucus Introduces New Health Care Reform Bill

November 19, 2009

S.1796, America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009 Reflects Chairman’s Response To House’s Passage of HR 3962 & Other Feedback

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) today (November 19, 2009) introduced his latest health care reform proposal, the America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009 (S.1796).  Chairman Baucus’ introduction of S. 1796 follows the November 7, 2009 passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of the massive health care reform proposal sponsored by Representative John Dingell (D-MI) and supported by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR. 3962).

Totaling 1504 pages in length, S.1796 proposes a lengthy and complex array of reforms to the U.S. health care coverage and delivery system, which would affect virtually each U.S. employer, health care provider, payer, and resident. As with the provisions of HR. 3962 and other versions of health care reform, the reforms outlined in the provisions of S.1796 include complexities and nuances which may not be apparent in partisan or non-partisan discussions or summaries of its goals or purposes. Consequently, individuals or businesses concerned about the proposed reforms are encouraged to begin and base their review and analysis on the actual text of S.1796, a copy of which as introduced is available for review here.  

The continuing emphasis of President Obama and other members of the Democratic Party Leadership in Congress on the passage of health care reform means that Senator Baucus and other Democratic Leaders in Congress are likely to continue to make passage of health care reform a priority.  U.S. businesses and individuals concerned about the proposed reforms should carefully review both the Senate and House bills and act quickly to provide their input on any matters of special interest and concern.

Selected Health Coverage Reform Highlights

Among other things, S.1796, as introduced, would enact sweeping health insurance coverage reforms that would create new obligations for employers, insurers, and individual workers.  In this respect, S.1796, among other things would:

  • Amend the Social Security Act (SSA) to add a new title XXII (Health Insurance Coverage) to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable and essential health benefits coverage.
  • Require all health benefits plans offered to individuals and employers in the individual and small group market to be qualified health benefits plans (QHBPs).
  • Amend the Internal Revenue Code to: (1) allow tax credits related to the purchase of health insurance through the state exchanges; and (2) impose an excise tax on individuals without essential health benefits coverage and on employers who fail to meet health insurance coverage requirements with respect to their full-time employees.
  • Prohibit QHBP from excluding coverage for preexisting conditions, or otherwise limiting or conditioning coverage based on any health status-related factors.
  • Require QHBPs to offer coverage in the individual and small group markets on a guaranteed issue and guaranteed renewal basis.
  • Amend the cafeteria plan rules of Internal Revenue Code § 125 to, among other things, require that in order for a health flexible spending arrangement (HFSA) to qualify as a qualified benefit eligible to be offered under a cafeteria plan, the cafeteria plan must limit the maximum salary reduction contribution per employee per taxable year to $2,500 beginning in 2011.
  • Increase the threshold for the itemized income tax deduction for medical expenses.
  • Require states to: (1) establish rating areas; (2) adopt a specified risk adjustment model; and (3) establish transitional reinsurance programs for individual markets.
  • Require QHBP offerors in the individual and small group markets to consider all enrollees in a plan to be members of a single risk pool.
  • Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish: (1) risk corridors for certain plan years; (2) high risk pools for individuals with preexisting conditions; (3) a temporary reinsurance program for retirees covered by employer-based plans; and (4) a program under which a state establishes one or more QHBPs to provide at least an essential benefits package to eligible individuals in lieu of offering coverage through an exchange.
  • Entitle a qualified individual to the choice to enroll or not to enroll in a QHBP offered through an exchange covering the individual’s state as well as QHBPs in the individual market while at the same time requiring that such individuals to be U.S. citizens or lawful residents.
  • Require each state to establish: (1) an exchange designed to facilitate enrollment in QHBPs in the individual market; and (2) a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchange designed to assist qualified small employers in facilitating the enrollment of their employees in QHBPs in either the individual or the small group market.
  • Direct the Secretary to: (1) establish a system allowing state residents to participate in state health subsidy programs; and (2) study methods exchange QHBPs can employ to encourage health care providers to make increased meaningful use of electronic health records.
  • Dictate the mandated contents of an essential health benefit benefits package, including little or no cost-sharing, no annual or lifetime limits on coverage, and preventive services.
  • Amend the Internal Revenue Code to codify and revise the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) wellness program regulations.
  • Amend the Internal Revenue Code to codify and revise the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) wellness program regulations.
  • With regard to abortions: (1) declare that the Act does not require health care benefits plans to provide coverage for abortions; prohibit QHBPs from discriminating against any individual health care provider or health care facility because of its willingness or unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions; (3) continues application of state and federal laws regarding abortion; (4) prohibit the use of premium credits and cost-sharing subsidies for QHBPs covering abortion services for which federal funding is prohibited; (5) require the plan offeror to determine whether or not the plan provides coverage of abortion services for which federal funding is prohibited or is allowed; and  (6) require the Secretary to assure that at least one QHBP covers abortion services for which federal funding is prohibited or allowed; and at least one QHBP that does not cover abortion services for which federal funding is allowed.

Other Selected Health Care System, Reimbursement & Other Reform Highlights

S.1796 also would expand and modify existing Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP and other federal health care programs and enact a host of other new rules and requirements affecting health care providers, drug companies and other participants in the U.S. health care system.  Other proposed reforms include provisions that would:

  • Require the President to: (1) certify annually in the President’s Budget whether or not the provisions in this Act will increase the budget deficit in the coming fiscal year; and (2) instruct the HHS Secretary and the Secretary of the Treasury to make required reductions in exchange credits and subsidies.
  • Establish a new mandatory eligibility category under SSA title XIX (Medicaid) for all non-elderly, nonpregnant individuals who are otherwise ineligible for Medicaid.
  • Revise Medicaid benefits.
  • Rescind funds available in the Medicaid Improvement Fund for FY2014-2018.
  • Make appropriations for Aging and Disability Resource Center initiatives.
  • Increase the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) for states to offer home and community-based services as a long-term care (LTC) alternative to nursing homes.
  • Create a Community First Choice Option.
  • Add a new optional categorically needy eligibility group to Medicaid for individuals: (1) with income that exceeds 133% of the poverty line; and (2) certain other individuals, but only for benefits limited to family planning services and supplies.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a grants program to support school-based health centers.
  • Remove smoking cessation drugs, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines from Medicaid’s excluded drug list.
  • Revise requirements for Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a Federal Coordinated Health Care Office within the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMMS).
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a Medicaid Quality Measurement Program.
  • Revise requirements for the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) under SSA title XXI, Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • Set forth special rules relating to American Indians and Alaska Indians.
  • Require the Secretary to establish procedures for sharing data collected under a federal health care program on race, ethnicity, sex, primary language, type of disability, and related measures and data analyses.
  • Amend SSA title V with respect to the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) block grant program.
  • Provide funding for abstinence education.
  • Incorporate reforms originally proposed under the Elder Justice Act of 2009 pursuant to which amendments would be made to the provisions of SSA title XX relating to Block Grants to States for Social Services with respect to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation and their prevention.
  • Establish within the Office of the Secretary an Elder Justice Coordinating Council.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a hospital value-based purchasing program under Medicare.
  • Extend the Medicare Physician Quality Reporting Initiative program (PQRI) incentive payments beyond 2010.
  • Modify the Physician Feedback Program.
  • Require the Secretary to develop a plan to implement a Medicare value-based purchasing program for home health agencies and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).
  • Amend SSA title XVIII (Medicare) to direct the Secretary to establish a national strategy to improve the delivery of health care services, patient health outcomes, and population health.
  • Direct the President to convene an Interagency Working Group on Health Care Quality.
  • Amend the General Provisions of SSA title XI to provide for the establishment of a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation within CMMS.
  • Amend SSA title XVIII to direct the Secretary to establish a shared savings program that promotes accountability for a patient population and coordinates items and services under Medicare parts A (Hospital Insurance) and B (Supplementary Medical Insurance).
  • Create a Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a Community-Based Care Transitions Program.
  • Revise requirements with respect to residents in teaching hospitals.
  • Increase the Medicare physician payment update.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a Working Group on Access to Emergency Medical Care.
  • Extend the Medicare-Dependent Hospital Program.
  • Amend the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 with respect to the hospital wage index.
  • Establish a Medicare prescription drug discount program for brand-name drugs for beneficiaries who enroll in Medicare part D (Voluntary Prescription Drug Benefit Program) and have drug spending that falls into the coverage gap.
  • Establish an independent Medicare Commission to reduce the per capita rate of growth in Medicare spending.
  • Amend SSA title XI to add a new part D, Comparative Effectiveness Research, under which would be established a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.
  • Establish in the Department of Treasury the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund.
  • Establish a nationwide program for national and state background checks on direct patient access employees of long term care facilities and providers.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish new procedures for screening providers of medical or other items or services and suppliers under the Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP programs.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a self-referral disclosure protocol to enable health care service providers and suppliers to disclose violations.
  • Requires the Secretary to expand the number of areas included in Round Two of the durable medical equipment (DME) competitive bidding program.
  • Extend the period for collection of overpayments due to fraud.
  • Amend the Internal Revenue Code with respect to: (1) an excise tax on the excess benefit of high cost employer-sponsored health coverage; (2) distributions from health savings accounts for drugs and insulin that are prescribed drugs and insulin only; (3) a limitation on salary reduction contributions by employers to a health flexible spending arrangement; (4) expanded information reporting requirements; (5) additional qualifying requirements for charitable hospital organizations; and (6) a qualifying therapeutic discovery project tax credit.
  • Impose annual fees on: (1) manufacturers and importers of branded prescription pharmaceuticals or of medical devices; and (2) health insurance providers.
  • Prescribe a special rule to limit excessive remuneration by certain health insurance providers.
  • Exclude from an individual’s gross income the value of any qualified Indian health care benefit.

Monitoring & Responding To Health Care Reform Proposals

As was the case with HR. 3962, members of the Senate are likely to debate and weigh a variety of amendments and refinements to the provisions of S.1796 as it deliberates its enactment.  If you or someone else you know would like to receive updates about health care reform proposals and other related legislative, regulatory, and enforcement developments, please:

  • Register for this resource at the link above;
  • Join the Coalition for Responsible Health Policy group at to share information and input and join in other dialogue with others concerned about health care reform;
  • Share your input by communicating with key members of Congress on committees responsible for this legislation and your elected officials directly and by actively participating in and contributing to other like-minded groups; and
  • Be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to health care or other legislative or regulatory reforms, or any other employment, compensation, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment/Employee Benefits  Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. 

Ms. Stamer has more than 22 years of experience advising and assisting business, government and other clients to evaluate and respond to health care, pension reform, workforce and other proposed or adopted changes in federal or state health care, employee benefit, employment, tax and other federal and state laws.  A member of the leadership council of the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Chair of the ABA Real Property, Probate & Trust Section and Employee Benefits & Compensation Group and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Ms. Stamer is highly regarded legal advisor, policy advocate, author and speaker recognized both nationally and internationally for her more than 20 years of work assisting U.S. public and private employers, health care providers, health insurers, and a broad range of other clients to respond to these and other health care, employee benefit and workforce public policy, regulatory and compliance and risk management concerns within the U.S. as well as internationally.  Her work includes extensive involvement providing input and assistance about health care, workforce, pensions and social security and other reforms domestically and internationally.  In addition to her continuous involvement in U.S. health care, pensions and savings, and workforce policy matters, Ms. Stamer has served as an advisor on these matters internationally.  As part of this work, she served as a lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its social security reform as well as has provided input on ethics, medical tourism, workforce and other reforms internationally.

In addition to her extensive work on health and other employee benefit matters, Ms. Stamer also is Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and has continuously has advised and represented employers and others on labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters throughout her career. Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer is a widely published author and popular speaker on health plan and other human resources, employee benefits and internal controls issues.   Her work has been featured and published by the American Bar Association, BNA, SHRM, World At Work, Employee Benefit News and the American Health Lawyers Association.  Her insights on human resources risk management matters have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, Managed Care Executive, HealthLeaders, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News and the Dallas Morning News.

If your organization needs assistance with monitoring, assessing, or responding to these or other health care, employee benefit or human resources reforms,  please contact Ms. Stamer via e-mail here, or by calling (214) 270-2402.  For additional information about the experience, services, publications and involvements of Ms. Stamer specifically or to access some of her many publications, see here. For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

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