A bipartisan health insurance reform plan that has been held hostage for months by a group of Senate Republicans was released last week, but opponents managed to delay a vote on the bill until after April 15.
The measure would curb the ability of health insurers and employers to deny coverage to employees who change jobs or have pre-existing medical conditions. It also would allow small firms to join together in purchasing cooperatives and guarantee that companies can renew their insurance regardless of the health of their employees.
Insurance groups oppose two provisions in the bill. One would require insurers to cover any employer with two or more employees. The other guarantees coverage to individuals who lose their employer insurance.
The Health Insurance Association of America said those two provisions would increase premiums from 10% to 30%. However, the American Academy of Actuaries said in a letter to Congress earlier this month that premiums would increase only 3%.
Provider groups support the bill, which they say will reduce the ranks of the uninsured.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who co-sponsored the bill along with Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), said last week that the legislation could help many of the 27 million Americans affected by pre-existing medical conditions.
The plan passed the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee unanimously last year but has been blocked by Senate Republicans using a parliamentary rule that prevents a floor vote and allows them to remain anonymous.
Last week, the last opponent, Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.), relented, but only if the plan were brought up for a vote after April 15. Grams said he feared the measure would be attached by Democrats to "must-pass" legislation and swept through Congress.
But Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) said the move was designed to give opponents more time to mobilize.
President Clinton, speaking to the National Governors' Association last week, reiterated a call for the bill's passage first made in his State of the Union address last month.
Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, has introduced two bills that include many of the same provisions as the Kassebaum-Kennedy measure. However, a House GOP aide said it would be more difficult to pass a bill in the House because it would require winning approval in several committees, each with jurisdiction over portions of the measure.