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House Members Introduce Dueling Health Insurance Bills

By Sarah Abruzzese, CQ Staff

July 25, 2006 -- Two disparate bills aimed at expanding the number of Americans with health care insurance were introduced Tuesday, one by Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., and another by a bipartisan group led by Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

"The lack of health care coverage is our most serious domestic problem," Baldwin said at a press conference announcing her plan. Nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured according to U.S. Census estimates, and millions of Americans are underinsured.

Stark's "AmeriCare Health Care Act" calls for universal health care coverage for all Americans while the bipartisan plan calls for approval of state grants to create pilot programs around the country. "AmeriCare is more than a solution for the uninsured, it is a solution for the underinsured," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., at the news conference announcing the proposal.

Stark's plan would dramatically restructure the way health care is provided.

The ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee says his bill would ensure that all U.S. residents would be eligible to receive health care through a program modeled on Medicare. The program would use Medicare's infrastructure, which operates on a 2 percent margin. AmeriCare would provide comprehensive coverage including services from physicians, hospitals, mental health services, and affordable prescription drugs while also imposing a limit on out-of-pocket expenses. Costs of the program are unknown; but a similar plan examined in 2002 cost between $50 billion and $80 billion in new spending in the first years.

There would be a societal cost of $125 per person for the first year but that number would go down, said Jacob Hacker, a doctor and Yale University professor who supports Stark's proposal.

Stark's AmeriCare Health Care Act already has the support of the AFL-CIO and Consumers Union, good news for him in an election year.

While Stark's proposal calls for a complete overhaul of the current health care system, the other bill, The Healthcare through Creative Federalism Act (HR 5864), would empower states to develop methods to cover uninsured residents by creating a grant process. A committee run through the Department of Health and Human Services would be composed of selected appointees from the state and the federal level. As proposed by Baldwin with Reps. Tom Price, R-Ga.; John F. Tierney, D-Mass.; and Bob Beauprez, R-Colo.; the bill contains a budget neutral provision, requiring that the slate of programs have no net cost during the five-year operation.

Despite the lateness of the session, the two bills join another idea launched this week by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would authorize pilot programs to run in a few states. The State-Based Health Care Reform Act would cost approximately $32 million over a 10-year period and pay five-year grants for the pilot program with the money coming from offsets.

"With an American-style approach to reform, that gives flexibility to the states and fuels innovation, real health care reform is within reach," Feingold said in a statement released by his office. "I support guaranteed health care coverage for all Americans and this bill moves us toward that goal."

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