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Health Care Bill Passes House
Volume 660
November 10, 2009

A sweeping universal health care bill narrowly passed in the U.S. House of Representatives this weekend, triggering what will likely be a contentious Senate debate amid increased lobbying from small business organizations. Besides affecting the future of health care costs for individuals and businesses, the House bill also includes a Sunshine Act provision that would compel pharmaceutical companies to disclose their payments and gifts to doctors. All gifts less than $5 in value are exempt from the provision. Titled the Affordable Health Care for America Act, the legislation passed by a 220-215 margin.

Strongly opposed by most Republicans, the House bill requires employers with payrolls above $500,000 to contribute 72.5% of the premium cost for each employee and 65% of the premium cost for family coverage. Failure to comply would result in a 2%-8% tax penalty, based on a company’s total payroll. Conversely, current Senate bills don’t include mandates, but instead offer tax credits to those businesses that contribute to premium costs.

The House measure that passed Saturday is projected to cost more than $1.05 trillion over the next decade, providing health insurance to an additional 36 million Americans. Creating a new public insurance plan by 2013, the bill offers tax credits to the lowest wage earners, in effect helping them pay for coverage.

Unlike the Senate bills, the House health care bill uses farther-reaching language in targeting payments made by drug makers. The House version calls for expanding disclosure to include pharmacists, researchers and medical associations. The bill produced by the Senate Finance Committee limits disclosure to doctors and teaching hospitals.

Following the close passage of the House bill, it’s unlikely any Senate versions will draw a quick vote. The heath care debate in the Senate could linger into 2010, after which a dual-chamber Congressional committee would meet to hash out differences in the versions of the bills.

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