Members of the Senate Budget Committee at a hearing today showed tentative support for a bill sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah) that seeks to revamp the healthcare system. The bill, known as the Healthy Americans Act, would provide incentives to buy basic private health plans and make health insurance more portable. Those below the federal poverty level could receive subsidies to buy insurance, and states would be given more flexibility to give consumers more choices in insurance available on the private market. People could take their plan to wherever they work, and the bill would also rewrite the tax code to give every individual a tax benefit for buying health insurance.
According to Wyden, this would create an incentive to buy insurance and in turn push the health insurance industry to offer more competitive plans. I think youve got the basic structure right, Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told Wyden and Bennett. The proposal wouldnt be government-controlled, but it would give the government a role in providing universal coverage, Conrad said.
Others on the panel questioned whether the plan would be too complex for consumers to understand. Wyden responded that hed tested his plan at town meetings and that he has been able to explain the entire plan within a matter of minutes. The bill would offer other incentives to promote preventive medicine, such as lowering Medicare Part B premiums for seniors who change their behavior to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as reducing family premiums for parents who enroll their children in preventive health programs. Wyden claims the bill would slow the rate of healthcare spending, saving up to $1.48 trillion from 2007 to 2016. -- by Jennifer Lubell