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Senate Finance Bill Changes Push Price Tag to $900 Billion

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, September 23, 2009

On the opening day of hearings on Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) released modifications to his bill—addressing some of the criticisms that some part of his bill would unfairly impact some low- and middle-income individuals and families.

Before heading into the second round of hearings yesterday, Baucus issued the changes that incorporated dozens of the 564 amendments—including several from Republicans—before the debate got underway. The additions slightly raise the price tag of the legislation to just under $900 billion over 10 years.

Among the changes were:

  • Manufacturers of Class I devices (such as elastic bandages and examination gloves) and Class II devices that are sold at retail for up to $100 per unit would be exempted from an annual fee.
  • An exemption would be created to allow health plan sponsors to encourage beneficiaries to use lower-cost generic drugs by allowing them to waive copays as an incentive.
  • Low and middle income families would get slightly larger tax credits to help pay for insurance premiums: those earning $32,490 to $43,320, for example, would be eligible for a credit covering premiums that exceed 12% of income.
  • The maximum fine imposed on families who do not meet a requirement to buy insurance would decrease to $1,900 from $3,800.
  • The terms of an excise tax were modified that would exempt policies that cover high risk workers, such as firefighters and coal miners, but increase the tax rate from 35% to 40%.
  • An annual cap on tax free contributions to flexible spending accounts would rise to $2,500, up from the $2,000 ceiling initially proposed.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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