Sunday, November 8, 2009

Utah's U.S. House Delegation All Vote Against H.R. 3962, The Affordable Health Choices For America Act, But Bill Passes 220-215

On November 7th, 2009, Jim Matheson, Rob Bishop, and Jason Chaffetz, who constitute Utah's three-person U.S. House delegation, all voted against H.R. 3962, the "Affordable Health Choices for America Act", but it wasn't enough to stop passage. The bill passed by a 220-215 vote. Media stories published by CNN, the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and KSL Channel 5.

-- View the full roll call vote HERE.
-- View the full 1,990 page bill HERE (it takes a couple of minutes to load).

Rep. John Dingell lauded the bill, saying "It provides coverage for 96 percent of Americans. It offers everyone, regardless of health or income, the peace of mind that comes from knowing they will have access to affordable health care when they need it," [Ed. Note: This statement is partially false; where's the peace of mind for those who will be forced to buy health insurance and may have a hard time paying for it?]

H.R. 3962 seeks to expand health care coverage to the approximately 40 million Americans who are currently uninsured by lowering the cost of health care and making the system more efficient. Among some of the key provisions:

-- Creates a public health insurance option and a national exchange for the uninsured and small businesses to purchase health insurance. The Secretary of Health and Human Services would negotiate rates with doctors and hospitals on reimbursement rates.
-- The bill includes mandates for individuals to purchase and businesses to provide health insurance or pay a fine. Individual penalty is 2.5 percent of gross income unless they get a waiver. Businesses that don't offer insurance pay a fine equal to 8 percent of their payroll. Businesses with a payroll of less than $500,000 are exempt from the mandate.
-- Insurance companies are prohibited from denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. There are caps on deductibles and annual out of pocket spending is capped at $5000.
-- Expands Medicaid from 100 percent to 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.
-- Provides tax subsidies for individuals between 150 and 400 percent (sliding scale) of the Federal Poverty Level. There are also tax subsidies for small businesses.
-- As amended, it prohibits federal funds from covering abortions. Women would need to purchase riders to insurance purchased on the exchange if they wanted that coverage.
-- The bill taxes individuals making more than $500,000 and $1 million for couples. It is a 5.4 percent tax.

The abortion amendment may have saved the bill. The bill’s passage was secured in large part by a vote that took place earlier in the evening on an amendment from Rep. Bart Stupak [D, MI-1] to strengthen language in the bill banning the use of federal funds for abortions. The amendment, which was approved by a vote of 240-194, essentially restricts all low and middle-income people purchasing insurance with federal subsidies from buying a plan that covers abortions besides those resulting from rape or incest, or in cases where the mother’s life is endangered. A bloc of about forty conservative Democrats had been threatening for weeks to vote en masse to kill the bill if they weren’t allowed to vote on Stupak’s amendment.

Utah's three House members set forth their assessments in this Deseret News story. Democrat Jim Matheson had sought changes for months without success, including negotiating with Obama in the White House as chairman of the Blue Dog Caucus of moderates. He maintained that the bill costs too much and doesn't reform enough. Matheson finally announced Friday November 6th he would oppose the bill and said party leaders did not try to change his position Saturday because of his long-known stances on key provisions. Matheson said his final decision to oppose the bill came after a meeting this week with the head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Matheson said he asked, "Does this really control these out-of-control costs or not? And basically he said, 'No, it doesn't.' "

Republican Rob Bishop characterized the bill as a massive power shift away from the states. He said the bill stops and guts and destroys what Utah is doing on a state level and the gains made in the state, and added that it would be expensive. "They took 10 years of revenue projections to balance off six years of costs. That's the type of gamesmanship that has gone on," Bishop said. "That means an increase in premiums or a tax increase for everyone.

Republican Jason Chaffetz called the Democratic bill an assault on freedom and another $1 trillion government takeover. He also strongly objected to the forced mandate, saying "The idea that the federal government can force you to purchase insurance coverage is's amazing that it will be a federal crime if you don't purchase insurance". Chaffetz also said the bill will raise taxes on every American at a time when people cannot afford it.

Perhaps Utah's Congressmen took a cue from senior Senator Orrin Hatch. Just a few days ago, during an interview with CNSNews, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said he does not believe the Democrats’ health-care reform plan is constitutionally justifiable, noting that if the federal government can force Americans to buy health insurance “then there is literally nothing the federal government can’t force us to do.”

The next move is up to the Senate. It's unclear when the Senate will vote on a version of the health care legislation debated in that chamber. Back in July, the Senate was considering a bill entitled "The Affordable Health Choices Act" (the 615-page draft is available HERE in PDF format), one of three different Congressional proposals compared side-by-side HERE on the Kaiser Foundation's website. If the Senate passes a bill, both the House and Senate bills would have to be reconciled into one document and voted on again.

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