Health Care on the Hill

March 23, 2011

Congress’ recess this week is providing most Democrats the opportunity to promote the health care law’s one-year anniversary in their districts. Thus, Capitol Hill is reprieved this week of the partisan health care reform rancor that has come to dominate the 112th Congress, namely the series of hearings that the House and Senate undertook last week to highlight the bill’s flaws or benefits, depending on which chamber the hearing was in.

With that in mind, proponents of the law have set themes for each day of the week during recess across the country, including: promoting protections for small businesses on Monday; Tuesday was protecting senior’s care; protecting patient’s rights is Wednesday; Thursday is protecting women’s care; and Friday is protecting young adult’s care.

Meanwhile, Republicans are gearing up for more health care battles upon their return next week. The week leading up to the recess was used to tee up several issues that will be addressed post-recess, including a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS) Act.

The CLASS Act is a national long-term care insurance program that became effective January 1, 2011. Following a five-year vesting period, the program will provide individuals with functional limitations a cash benefit of not less than an average of $50 per day to purchase nonmedical services and supports necessary to maintain community residence. The program is financed through voluntary payroll deductions: all working adults will be automatically enrolled in the program, unless they choose to opt-out.

Criticisms of the program’s financing as being unsustainable are widely accepted by both Democrats and Republicans, and supported by the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis. However, Republicans are working to repeal the provisions while Democrats assert the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has the authority to adjust the program’s premium requirements and benefits to ensure its viability. Republicans are expected to introduce legislation after the recess to repeal the provision.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee also is slated to take up medical malpractice reform legislation after the recess. The House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011, Feb. 16 on a party-line vote. Click here to read more about the bill.

The Committee also could consider other versions of medical malpractice reform, including a bipartisan bill by Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Gene Green (D-Texas) that deals with waiving med-mal insurance for doctors who volunteer at Community Health Centers. Similar legislation has passed the House on three different occasions and is expected to be re-introduced after the recess.

NSBA will continue to monitor health care reform initiatives in Congress and elsewhere to advocate and ensure progress is made to benefit small business owners, their employees, and their families. Stay tuned toNSBA’s Web site and  NSBA’s Health Reform Today and Tomorrow Web site for more news and information as it is made available.