The U.S. House of Representatives Votes to Expand Health Care Coverage for Children

On January 13, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 289-139 to expand health care coverage to 4 million children of working families through the government-sponsored State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). 

The bill will foot the $32.3 billion cost of expanding SCHIP for 4 1/2 years by increasing federal taxes on cigarettes by $0.61-$1.00 per pack. 

Departing President George W. Bush vetoed similar legislation twice in 2007.

Obama hopes that the U.S. Senate acts with the “same sense of urgency so that it can be one of the first measures I sign into law when I am president. … In this moment of crisis, ensuring that every child in America has access to affordable health care is not just good economic policy, but a moral obligation we hold as parents and citizens.”

The Congressional Budget Office projected that nearly 83 percent of the 4.1 million uninsured children who would gain coverage if the bill becomes law are in families with incomes below current eligibility limits. About 700,000 children would gain coverage because their states broadened eligibility. The measure passed by the House included a provision that would expand coverage to children of legal immigrants as well as pregnant immigrants.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to begin focusing on the matter on January 14, 2009.

Opponents suggested that the tobacco tax increase would not keep pace with rising health care costs; particularly as the number of smokers is decreasing and is likely to decrease further as a result of the tax increase.  Ultimately, these critics suggest, the government will have to cut children’s health care, recruit new smokers, or raise taxes.

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News Brief: Recent Events in Global Health Law

The insurance industry has told Congress that it will support a national health care overhaul that requires them to accept all customers, but in return it wants lawmakers to mandate that everyone buy coverage.  Washington Post

Emerging technologies could boost supplies of essential plant-based drugs to combat and ultimately help eradicate malaria.  BBC

A federal appeals court in Boston ruled in favor of a New Hampshire law, upholding the right of states to prohibit the sale of doctor-specific prescription drug data that is widely used in pharmaceutical marketing.  NY Times

A group of doctors said Wednesday that President Robert Mugabe’s government is to blame for a cholera epidemic sweeping Zimbabwe and that the disease’s spread there is being dramatically underreported.  Associated Press

A £4.5m public awareness campaign in England will be aimed at boosting the numbers of voluntary organ donors.  The UK has one of the lowest organ donation rates in Europe.  Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that if the campaign did not work, the law may be changed to “opt out.”  BBC 

Burger King Corp. said Wednesday it is cutting the amount of sodium in its kids meals and promoting menu combinations with less than 650 calories as part of a push to emphasize nutrition at its fast-food chains.  Washington Post

CNN Reporting that Tom Daschle will be named head of HHS and “Health Czar”

According to CNN:

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen former Sen. Tom Daschle to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the former Senate majority leader has indicated he wants the job, three sources close to the transition told CNN Wednesday.

The sources said that Daschle negotiated that he will also serve as the White House health “czar,” or point person, so that he will report directly to the incoming president.

By wearing two hats, Daschle — not White House staffers — will be writing the health care plan that Obama submits to Congress next year.

According to sources, Tom Daschle has become a health policy wonk through his work at Center for American Progress.  Tom Daschle has a health policy book out called “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis” that has been endorsed by Barack Obama, who says:

“The American health-care system is in crisis, and workable solutions have been blocked for years by deeply entrenched ideological divisions. Sen. Daschle brings fresh thinking to this problem, and his Federal Reserve for Health concept holds great promise for bridging this intellectual chasm and, at long last, giving this nation the health care it deserves.” 

in which he proposes a Federal Health Board.

Daschle’s solution to the health care crisis is a Federal Health Board.  Read more about Senator Daschle’s explanation about a Federal Health Board, after the jump. Continue reading

Scholar’s Corner: Recent Scholarly Works in Global Health Law

Section 125 Plans for Individual Insurance and HIPAA’s Group Insurance Provisions

 

Amy Monahan
University of Missouri School of Law

Mark A. Hall
Wake Forest University – School of Law

Wake Forest Univ. Legal Studies Paper No. 1283780  

Abstract    
Several states have either passed or proposed legislation requiring employers to offer their employees the ability to pay for health insurance on a pre-tax basis through a “cafeteria” (or “premium-only”) plan under section 125 of the tax code (a “section 125 plan”). Prior to these initiatives, many employers voluntarily established section 125 plans for this purpose. Recently, some authorities have raised a serious concern about the legality of this arrangement under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Specifically, they maintain that, under the tax code, section 125 plans cannot be used to purchase medically-underwritten individual insurance because doing so would violate HIPAA’s non-discrimination provisions for group plans. This paper explains the basis for this legal concern, and presents contrary legal arguments. It concludes that the current state of the law is unclear and is subject to change.

Available at SSRN.

Maryland Introduces Health Care Reform Legislation

According to the Washington Post, public health advocates in Maryland unveiled a $15.5 billion plan for universal health care.  The plan would subsidize insurance coverage for low-income residents with a payroll tax and increases to cigarette and alcohol taxes.

The plan would also allow small businesses and individuals to join an insurance pool, giving them leverage to negotiate lower rates for policies than on their own.  The state of Maryland itself would cover the costs of catastrophic care and patients would face higher co-payments for less effective and more expensive procedures.

Lawmakers and advocates both acknowledge that the plan has no chance for passage soon, but hope that this is a step towards future health care reform.

Senator Baucus to Take the Lead on Health Care Reform

Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has unveiled his plan to guarantee health insurance for all Americans.  In contrast to the plan put forward by Senator John McCain during his presidential bid, which favored individual purchases of health care in the market rather than through an employer, Senator Baucus aims to encourage insurance through employment.  Senator Baucus also proposes to expand Medicaid and Medicare.  Senator Baucus’s plan would eventually require everyone to have health insurance coverage, with federal subsidies for those who could not otherwise afford it.

“Every American has a right to affordable, high-quality health care,” Mr. Baucus said. “Americans cannot wait any longer.”

Other Democrats, such as Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Representatives John D. Dingell of Michigan and Pete Stark of California, are also drafting plans to expand insurance coverage and contain health care costs.

Read more about Senator Baucus’s plan, after the jump. Continue reading

Scholar’s Corner – Recent Scholarly Works in Global Health Law

Section 125 Plans for Individual Insurance and HIPAA’s Group Insurance Provisions


Amy Monahan, University of Missouri School of Law

Mark A. Hall, Wake Forest University – School of Law


Abstract:
Several states have either passed or proposed legislation requiring employers to offer their employees the ability to pay for health insurance on a pre-tax basis through a “cafeteria” (or “premium-only”) plan under section 125 of the tax code (a “section 125 plan”). Prior to these initiatives, many employers voluntarily established section 125 plans for this purpose. Recently, some authorities have raised a serious concern about the legality of this arrangement under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Specifically, they maintain that, under the tax code, section 125 plans cannot be used to purchase medically-underwritten individual insurance because doing so would violate HIPAA’s non-discrimination provisions for group plans. This paper explains the basis for this legal concern, and presents contrary legal arguments. It concludes that the current state of the law is unclear and is subject to change.

Available at SSRN