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WASHINGTON -- Under legislation introduced Monday evening by U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., employers who don't provide health insurance for their employees would no longer be penalized.

The measure would also raise caps on premiums for older, high-risk Americans while allowing new restrictions on enrollment for those seeking insurance through state exchanges.

The Republican-backed 2017 tax law eliminated the "individual mandate," a penalty on uninsured Americans. Westerman, who favored repealing and replacing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act during the previous session of Congress, wants to roll back other penalties as well.

"I think one of the problems with the Affordable Care Act is trying to force Americans to do something that they may not want to do," the lawmaker from Hot Springs said in an interview. "A big thrust of what we're trying to achieve with this bill is to have fair access to health care and to have more choices so that people can get the health care plan that's right for them."

Westerman said there's no evidence that repealing the employer penalties would result in more Americans being uninsured.

"We want to make it where it's more cost-effective for employers to provide health care," he said.

National Federation of Independent Business spokesman Adam Temple said rising health care premiums are a burden for job creators.

The penalty is now $2,320 per employee once the first 30 employees are subtracted.

"We support any effort to repeal the employer mandate that threatens to drain resources needed to hire and retain workers and invest in business operations," he said.

But the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank, portrayed Westerman's 230-page proposal as "bad for consumers" and a large tax cut for high-income earners.

"This bill seems like a grab bag of bad ideas from the various repeal bills from 2017," said Aviva Aron-Dine, the group's vice president for health policy.

The legislation would eliminate the net investment income tax, which is levied on certain individuals with annual income above $200,000 and married joint filers earning $250,000 or more per year.

An individual with $1 million in annual investment income would receive a tax cut of $30,000 if Westerman's bill becomes law, Aron-Dine added.

A 2.3 percent tax on medical-device manufacturers and the health-insurance tax on insurers would also be repealaed.

Instead, Westerman would levy a new $4 fee on some health insurance policies.

The money would help to create a "high-risk pool" program that would shield insurers from much of the risk associated with these policies.

In addition, the measure would prevent most federal workers from obtaining health care through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Instead, they would obtain their health care through exchange plans, with the federal government continuing to provide a 72 percent match.

The bill also would allow states to eliminate annual enrollment for participants in insurance exchanges, replacing it with enrollment periods every two or three years.

Insurers would have greater latitude to raise insurance premiums on older, higher-risk Americans. Currently, premiums on this group are capped at 300 percent of the rates charged to younger, lower-risk Americans. Under Westerman's plan, the premiums would be capped at 500 percent.

The proposal also makes it easier for states to obtain block-grant funding for certain health programs.

A summary of the legislation, provided by Westerman's office, says these changes would result in stronger Affordable Care Act exchanges as well as lower insurance premiums.

Reached shortly before the bill was released, Dr. Joe Thompson, president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, said it was too early to comment on it.

Health care is one of the nation's "most important political issues," and changes can be beneficial, he said.

"We need to continue improving our system. It's not a status quo system," he added.

Information for this article was contributed by Andy Davis of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 02/26/2019

Print Headline: Arkansas congressman unveils care proposal; employer-penalty repeal among provisions in health bill

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Archived Comments

  • MBAIV
    February 26, 2019 at 6:53 a.m.

    And, once again, nothing to put a stop to the constant, disproportionate increases in the cost of drugs. Congress is still owned by big pharma. The chance was there when the ACA was passed but instead the prohibition on feds negotiating for better prices was left and nothing for regular consumers.

    Did I mention that Congress was owned by big pharma? Both sides of the aisle are owned.

  • WGT
    February 26, 2019 at 7:01 a.m.

    Sheesh! Another hurdle to clear to get through the hoops. This has zero to do with health care. This is about the bottom line for the insurance companies. I agree the system is myriad with conditions, inclusions, exclusions, but, it gets to a point where it is realized that more laws to eliminate more laws is redundant. The entire health care system needs to be scrapped and replaced with single payer, Medicare For All. We must have common sense lawmakers who see the benefit of helping people heal instead of lawmakers who chase the dollar signs in their eyes.

  • Waitjustaminute
    February 26, 2019 at 7:48 a.m.

    WGT, where's the common sense solution to 'how are you going to pay for Medicare for all?' It's an obscenely expensive proposition.

  • BoudinMan
    February 26, 2019 at 7:58 a.m.

    Repugs doing what they do best: taking care of the donor class, and big corporations, while hurting the poor and the middle class. And yet, we continue to send these yahoos back to congress.

  • MBAIV
    February 26, 2019 at 8:17 a.m.

    BoudinMan -- it was the Dems who passed the ACA, all by themselves, and gave the keys to the drug kingdom to big pharma. It is NOT just the Repubs who are protecting big medical business. The Inside the Beltway Club (aka The Swamp) is all in for the lobbist's money.

  • mrcharles
    February 26, 2019 at 11:43 a.m.

    I hate it that romenycare and various gop ideas were used to do the ACA. Dealing with the usual disdain for mericans is never a good idea to follow , even though it is the gop way.

    I saw the chris wallace interview with mike huckabee's daughter about the Wall and the national emergency and facts and it reminds me, Surely their is really a National Emergency, that of health care. Riddle me this, the number of terrorist as mentioned by Mr. wallace and the bad things that happen by no wall, the effect of "Why dont he write his family Ben laden" on the West since his theological based killings, all with their attendant costs and effect on mericans, vs the actual pain, misery, suffering, death, affect on the economy of America by having no National emergency as to health care? Since we do not have a magic man who can heal by tough any more, we are left to our own devises and we are not doing so well.

    Amazing that the gop hates most mericans and the democrats so much that they will push their agenda of exclusion instead of inclusion to the determent of creations of the creator [ their way of calling most humans when they are not using vulgar terms to those who are not gop].

    Big pharma, I believe arose prior to Obama , and I believe DT has said bad things about big pharma [ actions speak quieter than words] which appears to be against job creators .

    Make arkansas proud, make the rest of merica be like Arkansas , and in matters of education and health, lets all take down merica to the lowest common denominator.

    My advise to gop ILKS, dont think your Benny Hinn Toufik Benedictus "Benny" Hinn faith healing proposals will work.

  • Illinoisroy
    February 26, 2019 at 12:40 p.m.

    SINGLE PAYER!

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