AIDS Action Concerned About Several Provisions In House Bill, Prefers Kennedy-Kassebaum Health Insurance Reform Alternative
For Immediate Release
Washington, D.C. -- On Friday March 29, The U.S. House of Representatives passed a health insurance bill that House GOP leaders hope will allay the concerns of Americans who fear losing health insurance coverage as they move from job to job. The bill passed by a vote of 267-151. While AIDS advocates support provisions in the House bill which would improve the portability of health insurance and limit pre-existing condition exclusions, they are expressing grave concern that this bill limits medical malpractice awards, exempts health insurance plans from state consumer protection and benefits laws, and threatens the confidentiality of private medical information.
"The House-passed bill is really a mixed bag," said Christine Lubinski, deputy executive director of AIDS Action Council. "It contains provisions that improve insurance portability and limit, not eliminate, pre-existing condition exclusions, both of which we approve. However, we strongly object to a laundry list of other, ill-conceived provisions that assuage special interest groups while adversely affecting health care consumers, including people living with AIDS."
Lubinski outlined four specific concerns about the House health insurance bill:
- This bill allows small businesses to band together in purchasing cooperatives for the purpose of buying health insurance for their employees. AIDS Action supports the rights of small businesses to create purchasing cooperatives, but opposes any provision that exempts these cooperatives from state consumer protection and benefits laws. Under this provision, purchasing cooperatives would be exempt from existing managed care laws and other state laws, including the requirement to provide patients access to appropriate health care providers or specific benefits such as mental health services and substance abuse treatment.
- This bill drastically limits medical malpractice awards. Current medical malpractice laws that allow individuals to sue their physicians are a form of consumer protection that keep people safe.
- This bill, in the name of "administrative simplification," threatens medical record confidentiality by failing to impose strict confidentiality rules for the electronic transfer of medical information, or strict penalties for companies and individuals who do not protect the confidentiality of such information.
- This bill establishes Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) which would allow people to set aside pre-tax dollars to pay for medical expenses. What this provision does is effectively remove healthy, middle- to high-income people from the insurance pool and creates an insurance market which is limited to individuals, such as people with AIDS, who have limited financial resources and are living with a chronic health condition. This provision is expected to drive up premiums for that insurance market.
AIDS Action prefers a similar health insurance bill championed by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kans.) and currently pending in the Senate. The Kennedy-Kassebaum offers greater insurance portability but does not contain the controversial provisions included in the House bill. AIDS Action also supports an amendment by Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.) which would raise lifetime insurance caps to $10 million. Insurance companies can currently set lifetime caps at any dollar amount -- usually $1 million. Senate action on the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill and Jeffords's lifetime cap amendment is not expected until after the Easter congressional recess.
Founded in 1984, AIDS Action Council is the only national organization devoted solely to advocating on federal AIDS policy, legislation and funding. AIDS Action represents more than 1,400 community-based AIDS service organizations throughout the United States.
For more information, contact
AIDS Action Council
1875 Connecticut Avenue NW #700
Washington DC 20009
202-986-1300 ext. 3042