While the House last week tried to awaken the economy with a cold splash of tax cuts, the healthcare industry's share of the legislation is just a drop in the bucket.
On a 216-214 vote, the House passed an economic stimulus package backed by President Bush with provisions to help newly unemployed workers buy insurance.
The bill, which would cost an estimated $128.2 billion over the next 10 years, now faces opposition in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said it gives too much tax relief to the wealthy.
The bill would add $3 billion in federal fiscal 2002 to state social services block grants to help unemployed people buy health insurance.
It also extends for two years, through the end of fiscal 2003, a tax on health plans that do not offer annual and lifetime mental health benefits equal to their medical and surgical benefits.
While not specifically backing the House plan, one hospital lobbying group expressed support for finding ways to cover uninsured people.
"We're pleased that Congress is addressing the issue," said Richard Coorsh, spokesman for the Federation of American Hospitals.
One healthcare consumer group leader said the House plan doesn't do enough to help unemployed people buy insurance.
Ronald Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said the federal government needs to subsidize unemployed workers who are eligible to continue to receive healthcare coverage under their former employers' plans. In addition, he said the federal government needs to expand Medicaid to help workers who won't receive coverage from their former employers.