A Health Care “Call to Action”

As you may have seen today, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) unveiled his “Call to Action,” a sweeping health care reform proposal with the goal of “guaranteeing all Americans affordable, quality coverage no matter what their age, health status or medical history.”  A four page executive summary is attached to this email.  The full 96-page whitepaper is available at:  http://finance.senate.gov/healthreform2009/finalwhitepaper.pdf


Senator Baucus encourages President-Elect Obama to focus on health care reform in early 2009.  While Senator Baucus’ proposal does not set forth actual legislative language, the proposal does sketch a broad outline of legislation that he intends to introduce.  The parameters of this proposed legislation are as follows:


1.  Baucus’ proposal would establish a Health Insurance Exchange (similar to the Massachusetts Connector) that would link individuals and small employers to insurance offered at all levels, including local, state, and national. Insurers offering coverage through the Exchange would be required to satisfy certain minimum requirements established by a new Independent Health Coverage Council.  


2.  The proposal also includes a Massachusetts-type “pay-or-play” feature, under which larger employers who do not provide a minimum level of coverage would have to contribute to a national fund that would help to cover those who remained uninsured. Individuals who are between ages 55 and 64 would be allowed a temporary opportunity to buy coverage under Medicare. This authority would expire after the Health Insurance Exchange program is fully implemented.


3.  The proposal would also require all but very small employers to adopt a cafeteria plan under Code Section 125, so that premiums can be paid on a pre-tax basis.


4.  The proposal also includes various health information technology improvements so that overall health care system costs are reduced.


Some surmised that Senator Baucus would also advocate limiting the employer tax exclusion for employer provided health benefits.  While the white paper discusses the exclusion and some of its critics, it stops short of advocating for a limitation.


If you have any questions about the Baucus Proposal or health care reform in general, please feel free to contact me.


Mark L. Stember
Kilpatrick Stockton LLP
Suite 900
607 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
t 202.508.5802
f 202.585.0018