Capitol Hill Miscellany

Business Insurance reports that the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee braved the snow in DC today and voted 18-3 in favor of the improved mental health parity (S 558) billed discussed in the FEHBlog last Monday. This is not yet posted on the Thomas web site.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D. Ore.), who has proposed universal health coverage, and a bipartisan group of nine other Senators have written a letter to the President offering to cooperate on the development of legislation to control surging heath care costs. The letter proposes that the Administration and Congress work together to pass laws that would

1) Ensure that all Americans would have affordable, quality, private health coverage, while protecting current government programs. We believe the health care system cannot be fixed without providing solutions for everyone. Otherwise, the costs of those without insurance will continue to be shifted to those who do have coverage. 2) Modernize Federal tax rules for health coverage. Democratic and Republican economists have convinced us that the current rules disproportionately favor the most affluent, while promoting inefficiency. 3) Create more opportunities and incentives for states to design health solutions for their citizens. Many state officials are working in their state legislatures to develop fresh, creative strategies for improving health care, and we believe any legislation passed in this Congress should not stymie that innovation. 4) Take steps to create a culture of wellness through prevention strategies, rather than perpetuating our current emphasis on sick care. For example, Medicare Part A pays thousands of dollars in hospital expenses, while Medicare Part B provides no incentives for seniors to reduce blood pressure or cholesterol. Employers, families, and all our constituents want emphasis on prevention and wellness. 5) Encourage more cost-effective chronic and compassionate end-of-life care. Studies show that an increase in health care spending does not always mean an increase in quality of outcomes. All Americans should be empowered to make decisions about their end of life care, not be forced into hospice care without other options. We hope to work with you on policies that address these issues.

According to Business Insurance, “White House economic adviser Al Hubbard said the president was ‘pleased’ by the invitation to work on health care legislation. ‘We agree with these senators—we want to fix health care now,’ said Mr. Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council, in a statement.”

Finally, the Wall Street Journal reports tonight that Rep. Louise Slaughter’s genetic information non-discrimination bill (H.R. 493) may be enacted this quarter. “The bill was approved by the House Committee on Education and Labor yesterday and is expected to pass the full House. The Senate, which previously passed the legislation twice, is expected to vote on it within two weeks, and President Bush has indicated he will sign it.” The Thomas web site summarizes the bill as follows:

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007 – Amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Public Health Service Act to expand the prohibition against discrimination by group health plans and health insurance issuers in the group and individual markets on the basis of genetic information or services to prohibit: (1) enrollment and premium discrimination based on information about a request for or receipt of genetic services; and (2) requiring genetic testing. Sets forth penalties for violations. Amends title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act to prohibit issuers of Medicare supplemental policies from discriminating on the basis of genetic information. Extends medical privacy and confidentiality rules to the disclosure of genetic information. Makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer, employment agency, labor organization, or training program to discriminate against an individual or deprive such individual of employment opportunities because of genetic information. Prohibits the collection and disclosure of genetic information, with certain exceptions. Establishes a Genetic Nondiscrimination Study Commission to review the developing science of genetics and advise Congress on the advisability of providing for a disparate impact cause of action under this Act.

The FEHB Program falls under the Public Health Service Act for purposes of this bill.