Washington — U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy added a feather to his cap Thursday in his campaign for the U.S. Senate when the House passed his bill that would allow workers to keep their existing employer group health care plans, even if the plans fall short of the standards set by the Affordable Care Act.
Cassidy, a Baton Rouge physician, is the leading Republican challenger to the re-election of Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu — and Landrieu is a primary target of Republican efforts to capture the six Senate seats they need to add control of the U.S. Senate to their rule over the House.
Cassidy is seeking to capitalize on dissatisfaction with the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” in his campaign against Landrieu, who voted in favor of the act in 2010. The law, which is the signature legislation of Democratic President Barack Obama, passed the Senate with no votes to spare.
“This legislation is about keeping a promise and doing right by the American people,” Cassidy said on the House floor Wednesday, in support of his Health Care Protection Act of 2014. “The act allows Americans to save money on health care, increases access to affordable health care choices and will mean more money for workers.”
Democratic opponents of the bill say it allows insurance companies to engage in abusive and discriminatory practices, such as penalizing people with pre-existing medical conditions or charging women more than men for similar policies — practices prohibited by the ACA.
Cassidy’s bill was approved 247-167, largely along party lines. The bill has little or no chance of becoming law. The House has passed dozens of bills to repeal all of part of Obamacare, and the Democratic-controlled Senate has ignored them.
Even if Cassidy’s bill clears the Senate, Obama has indicated he will veto it.
The Cassidy bill is a response to Obama’s discredited promise that under Obamacare, Americans could keep their existing health plans if they wished. That turned out to, in effect, be untrue, as millions were insured by individual plans that would not meet the act’s minimum standards for coverage. The ACA includes mandates for coverage as a key part of its goal to reduce the number of uninsured Americans. Obama last year delayed enforcement of the mandates for a year beyond the original date.
The Cassidy bill is intended to make good on much of that “keep your plan” promise for the next five years for employees covered by employer plans that otherwise would run afoul of Obamacare requirements. Those plans are often cheaper than ACA-compliant plans.
The previous, ACA-triggered notices of coverage cancellations mainly affected individual insurance plans, but regulations taking effect this October could have a similar impact on the group market. The version of Cassidy’s bill passed by the House would allow employers to offer plans in compliance as of Dec. 31, 2013, for another five years without violating the ACA. Those plans include some consumer-friendly ACA provisions that already have been applied in the group market.
The bill also would increase federal tax revenues by more than $1 billion over the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office said. That’s because more consumer spending would be diverted from health-insurance premiums, which are tax-exempt, to expenditures that are taxed.
But the bill could mean premium increases for policyholders who do not opt for the cheaper, noncompliant plans, the CBO said.
That’s because those plans are likely to attract younger, healthier workers — as many as 2 million by 2016 — leaving workers who are costlier to insure in other plans.
About 50 million people nationwide are enrolled in group health insurance plans. The budget office said the bill will have little effect on plans offered by large employers, who typically cover their own risks.
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