Senate Health Bill Reduces Premiums on Average, Report Says

5696255The White House and congressional Democrats today trumpeted the results of a new analysis (PDF) of the Senate health care bill's impact on premiums, released just hours before the Senate kicked off debate on the legislation.

Without taking into account subsidies, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's reform package would raise premiums on non-group insurance policies by an average of 10 percent to 13 percent by 2016, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. About 57 percent of consumers in the non-group market are expected to receive subsidies, however, and for those people, average premiums would drop by as much as 59 percent. The bill would have a much smaller impact on the cost of small group and large group insurance, which account for 83 percent of the market.

Incoming White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on the White House blog that the CBO report "contains more good news about what reform will mean for families struggling to keep up with skyrocketing premiums under the broken status quo."

Pfeiffer highlighted the CBO's conclusion that consumers in the nongroup market will see lower premiums, as well as the expected decrease in premiums for those who have employer-based coverage. Also, Pfeiffer wrote, "Americans who currently struggle to find coverage would see lower premiums because more people will be covered."

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Pfeiffer emphasized that the CBO concludes that average premiums will rise in some cases because people will have more options and therefore choose to buy better insurance.

"Let's be clear," he wrote. "Where the CBO does see premiums rising, it's not because Americans are paying more for the same coverage – it's that they're making a choice to purchase better plans that weren't previously available to them."

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Indeed, the CBO reported that average nongroup premiums would increase in part because of "people's decisions to purchase more extensive coverage in response to the structure of subsidies."

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who shepherded much of the health care debate this year as head of the Senate Finance Committee, also hailed the report.

"In recent years, Americans have seen their health insurance premiums creep higher and higher at an alarming rate. Health reform set out to slow those rapid increases, and today the non-partisan congressional budget scorekeepers told us we've succeeded," Baucus said. "The analysis we received today indicates that whether you work for a small business, a large company or you work for yourself, the vast majority of Americans will see lower premiums than they would if we don't pass health reform."

Meanwhile, Reid kicked off the floor debate over the bill today by promising to keep senators at work over the weekends through December, in order to finish debate before the year is up.

"There's not an issue more important than finishing this legislation," Reid said, according to the Associated Press.

In his opening statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the bill, which would cost $979 billion over 10 years, is fiscally irresponsible.

"The notion that we would even consider spending trillions of dollars we don't have in a way that the majority of Americans don't even want is proof that this health care bill is out of touch," McConnell said, the AP reports.

Only two amendments will be proposed to the bill today. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is calling for reducing copays and deductibles for preventive services for women, such as mammograms. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is proposing to remove cuts to the Medicare program.

Mikulski said that under her amendment, "if your doctor says you need [a mammogram], you're going to get one.'' She said her amendment would cost about $1 billion, the AP reports.

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