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Langevin, Shays Unveil Bipartisan Universal Health Care Plan

By Reed Cooley, CQ Staff

February 12, 2008 -- Reps. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Christopher Shays, R-Conn., proposed a bipartisan universal health plan on Tuesday that they hope will provide the same health coverage to all Americans that they receive as members of Congress.

Titled "The American Health Benefits Program," which the lawmakers also unveiled on Monday during joint press conferences in Rhode Island and Connecticut, the proposal would be based on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which insures 8 million current and retired federal employees and their dependents.

"The time has long passed to open a dialogue on reforming the nation's health care system," Langevin said in press release. Shays and Langevin said this is the first universal health coverage measure to originate in the House.

The program would apply to all U.S. citizens and legal immigrants and would require all individuals to buy insurance, enrolling those who do not choose a plan in the lowest cost plan for their region.

It also would require employers to either offer health insurance benefits to their employees or pay a payroll tax that would finance the government contribution to premiums. Under the program, the government would pay at least 72 percent of the premium for each enrollee.

The plan contrasts with a Senate bipartisan effort, headed by Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that proposes an end to employment-linked coverage. Robert F. Bennett of Utah has signed on as the lead Republican sponsor of that bill (S 334).

Neither Langevin nor Shays serves on the House Ways and Means or the Energy and Commerce committees, which would have jurisdiction over the proposal.

"It's surprising that we haven't seen a bill like this generate from one of those committees," Shays said. When asked if either committee had shown support for the proposal, he said, "Ask us in a month."

Both lawmakers emphasized the bipartisan nature of the measure and acknowledged that in a heated election year in which health care is the number one issue for many Americans, sweeping changes are unlikely to be fully realized.

"This proposal introduces a viable concept and leaves room for further discussion," Langevin said.

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