Congressional Democrats have released a final version of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul bill in advance of a House vote planned for Sunday. Some of the main features of the legislation, which makes changes to the bill the Senate passed on Christmas Eve:
COST: $940 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
HOW MANY COVERED: 32 million uninsured. Major coverage expansion begins in 2014. When fully phased in, 95 percent of eligible Americans would have coverage, compared with 83 percent today.
INSURANCE MANDATE: Almost everyone is required to be insured or else pay a fine. There is an exemption for low-income people. Mandate takes effect in 2014.
INSURANCE MARKET REFORMS: Major consumer safeguards take effect in 2014. Insurers prohibited from denying coverage to people with medical problems or charging them more. Higher premiums for women would be banned. Starting this year, insurers would be forbidden from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, and from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing medical problems. Parents would be able to keep older kids on their policies up to age 26. A new high-risk pool would offer coverage to uninsured people with medical problems until 2014, when the coverage expansion goes into high gear.
MEDICAID: Expands the federal-state Medicaid insurance program for the poor to cover people with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, $29,327 a year for a family of four. Childless adults would be covered for the first time, starting in 2014. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the tab for covering newly eligible individuals through 2016. A special deal that would have given Nebraska 100 percent federal financing for newly eligible Medicaid recipients in perpetuity is eliminated. A different, one-time deal negotiated by Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu for her state, Louisiana, worth as much as $300 million, remains.
TAXES: Dramatically scales back a Senate-passed tax on high-cost insurance plans that was opposed by House Democrats and labor unions. The tax would be delayed until 2018, and the thresholds at which it is imposed would be $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families. To make up for the lost revenue, the bill applies an increased Medicare payroll tax to investment income as well as wages for individuals making more than $200,000, or married couples above $250,000. The tax on investment income would be 3.8 percent.
PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: Gradually closes the "doughnut hole" coverage gap in the Medicare prescription drug benefit that seniors fall into once they have spent $2,830. Seniors who hit the gap this year will receive a $250 rebate. Beginning in 2011, seniors in the gap receive a discount on brand name drugs, initially 50 percent off. When the gap is completely eliminated in 2020, seniors will still be responsible for 25 percent of the cost of their medications until Medicare's catastrophic coverage kicks in.
EMPLOYER RESPONSIBILITY: As in the Senate bill, businesses are not required to offer coverage. Instead, employers are hit with a fee if the government subsidizes their workers' coverage. The $2,000-per-employee fee would be assessed on the company's entire workforce, minus an allowance. Companies with 50 or fewer workers are exempt from the requirement. Part-time workers are included in the calculations, counting two part-timers as one full-time worker.
SUBSIDIES: The proposal provides more generous tax credits for purchasing insurance than the original Senate bill did. The aid is available on a sliding scale for households making up to four times the federal poverty level, $88,200 for a family of four. Premiums for a family of four making $44,000 would be capped at around 6 percent of income.
HOW YOU CHOOSE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE: Small businesses, the self-employed and the uninsured could pick a plan offered through new state-based purchasing pools called exchanges, opening for business in 2014. The exchanges would offer the same kind of purchasing power that employees of big companies benefit from. People working for medium-to-large firms would not see major changes. But if they lose their jobs or strike out on their own, they may be eligible for subsidized coverage through the exchange.
GOVERNMENT-RUN PLAN: No government-run insurance plan. People purchasing coverage through the new insurance exchanges would have the option of signing up for national plans overseen by the federal office that manages the health plans available to members of Congress. Those plans would be private, but one would have to be nonprofit.
ABORTION: The proposal keeps the abortion provision in the Senate bill. Abortion opponents disagree on whether restrictions on taxpayer funding go far enough. The bill tries to maintain a strict separation between taxpayer dollars and private premiums that would pay for abortion coverage. No health plan would be required to cover abortion. In plans that do cover abortion, policyholders would have to pay for it separately, and that money would have to be kept in a separate account from taxpayer money. States could ban abortion coverage in plans offered through the exchange. Exceptions would be made for cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.
STUDENT LOAN OVERHAUL: Requires the government to originate student loans, closing out a role for banks and other private lenders who charge a fee. The savings – projected to be more than $60 billion over a decade – are plowed into higher Pell Grants for needy college students and increased support for historically black colleges.
GOP HEALTH CARE SUMMIT IDEAS: Following the bipartisan health care summit, Obama announced he was open to incorporating Republican ideas in his legislation. But two of the principal ones – hiring investigators to pose as patients and search for fraud at hospitals and increasing spending for medical malpractice reform initiatives – didn't make it into the bill released Thursday. Only one did, an increase in payments to primary care physicians under Medicaid, proposed by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.