Let the Individual Mandate Die

In May New Jersey imposed a health-insurance mandate requiring all residents to buy insurance or pay a penalty. More states will feel pressure to follow suit in the coming year as the federal mandate’s penalty disappears Jan. 1 and state legislatures reconvene, some with new Democratic majorities intent on “protecting” Obamacare. But conflicts with federal law will make state-level health-insurance mandates ineffective or unduly onerous, and governors and legislatures would do well to steer clear.

While states can require citizens to purchase health coverage, they will have trouble ensuring compliance. Federal law prohibits the Internal Revenue Service from disclosing tax-return data, except under limited circumstances. And there is no clear precedent allowing the IRS to disclose coverage data to verify compliance with state insurance requirements.

Accordingly, mandates enacted in New Jersey and the District of Columbia earlier this year created their own coverage-reporting regimes. But those likely conflict with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, which explicitly pre-empts “any and all state laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan.” The point is to protect large employers who self-insure workers from 50 sets of conflicting state laws.

No employer has used ERISA to challenge Massachusetts’ 2006 individual mandate, which includes reporting requirements, but that doesn’t mean it’s legal. Last month a Brookings Institution paper conceded that “state requirements related to employer benefits like health coverage may be subject to legal challenge based on ERISA preemption.”

A 2016 Supreme Court ruling would bolster such a challenge. In Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual, the court struck down a Vermont law that required employers to submit health-care payment claims to a state database. The court said the law was pre-empted by ERISA.

Writing for a six-justice majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted the myriad reporting requirements under federal law. Vermont’s law required additional record-keeping. Justice Kennedy concluded that “differing, or even parallel, regulations from multiple jurisdictions could create wasteful administrative costs and threaten to subject plans to wide-ranging liability.”

Justice Kennedy’s opinion provides a how-to manual for employers to challenge state-level insurance mandates. A morass of state-imposed insurance mandates and reporting requirements would unnecessarily burden employers with costs and complexity. It cries out for pre-emptive relief.

Unfortunately, policy makers have ignored these concerns. Notes from the working group that recommended the District of Columbia’s individual mandate never mention the reporting burden or ERISA pre-emption. And in August the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved New Jersey’s waiver application that relied in part upon funding from that state’s new individual mandate, even though money from the difficult-to-enforce requirement may never materialize.

States already cannot require federal agencies to report coverage. This means their mandates won’t track the 2.3 million covered by the Indian Health Service, 9.3 million receiving health care from the Veterans Administration, 8.8 million disabled under age 65 who are enrolled in Medicare, 9.4 million military Tricare enrollees and 8.2 million federal employees and retirees.

If a successful ERISA challenge also exempts some of the 181 million with employer-based insurance from coverage-reporting requirements, state insurance mandates become farcical. States would have to choose between mandates that run on the “honor system”—thus likely rife with cheating—or taking so much time and energy to verify coverage that administration becomes prohibitively expensive.

States should take the hint and refrain from even considering their own coverage mandates. But if they don’t, smart employers should challenge the mandate’s reporting requirements. They’d likely win.

This post was originally published at The Wall Street Journal.

How Graham-Cassidy’s Funding Formula Gives Washington Unprecedented Power

The past several days have seen competing analyses over the block-grant funding formula proposed in health-care legislation by Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA). The bill’s sponsors have one set of spreadsheets showing the potential allocation of funds to states under their plan, the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has another, and consultants at Avalere (funded in this case by the liberal Center for American Progress) have a third analysis quantifying which states would gain or lose under the bill’s funding formula.

So who’s right? Which states will end up the proverbial winners and losers under the Graham-Cassidy bill? The answer is simple: Nope.

While the bill’s proponents claim the legislation will increase state authority, in reality the bill gives unelected bureaucrats the power to distribute nearly $1.2 trillion in taxpayer dollars unilaterally. In so doing, the bill concentrates rather than diminishes Washington’s power—and could set the course for the “mother of all backroom deals” to pass the legislation.

A Complicated Spending Formula

To start with, the bill repeals Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and exchange subsidies, effective in January 2020. It then replaces those two programs with a block grant totaling $1.176 trillion from 2020 through 2026. All else equal, this set of actions would disadvantage states that expanded Medicaid, because the Medicaid expansion money currently being received by 31 states (plus the District of Columbia) would be re-distributed among all 50 states.

From there the formula gets more complicated. (You can read the sponsors’ description of it here.) The bill attempts to equalize per-person funding among all states by 2026, with funds tied to a state’s number of individuals with incomes between 50 percent and 138 percent of the poverty level.

Thus far, the formula carries a logic to it. For years conservatives have complained that Medicaid’s match rate formula gives wealthy states more incentives to draw down federal funds than poor states, and that rich states like New York and New Jersey have received a disproportionate share of Medicaid funds as a result. The bill’s sponsors claim that the bill “treats all Americans the same no matter where they live.”

Would that that claim were true. Page 30 of the bill demonstrates otherwise.

The Trillion-Dollar Loophole

Page 30 of the Graham-Cassidy bill, which creates a “state specific population adjustment factor,” completely undermines the rest of the bill’s funding formula:

IN GENERAL.—For calendar years after 2020, the Secretary may adjust the amount determined for a State for a year under subparagraph (B) or (C) and adjusted under subparagraphs (D) and (E) according to a population adjustment factor developed by the Secretary.

The bill does say that HHS must develop “legitimate factors” that affect state health expenditures—so it can’t allocate funding based on, say, the number of people who own red socks in Alabama. But beyond those two words, pretty much anything goes.

The bill says the “legitimate factors” for population adjustment “may include state demographics, wage rates, [and] income levels,” but it doesn’t limit the factors to those three characteristics—and it doesn’t limit the amount that HHS can adjust the funding formula to reflect those characteristics either. If a hurricane like Harvey struck Texas three years from now, Secretary Tom Price would be within his rights under the bill to cite a public health emergency and dedicate 100 percent of the federal grant funds—which total $146 billion in 2020—solely to Texas.

That scenario seems unlikely, but it shows the massive and virtually unprecedented power HHS would have under the bill to control more than $1 trillion in federal spending by executive fiat. To top it off, pages 6 through 8 of the bill create a separate pot of $25 billion — $10 billion for 2019 and $15 billion for 2020 — and tell the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator to “determine an appropriate procedure” for allocating the funds. That’s another blank check of $25,000,000,000 in taxpayer funds, given to federal bureaucrats to spend as they see fit.

Backroom Deals Ahead

With an unprecedented level of authority granted to federal bureaucrats to determine how much funding states receive, you can easily guess what’s coming next. Unnamed Senate staffers already invoked strip-club terminology in July, claiming they would “make it rain” on moderates with hundreds of billions of dollars in “candy.” Under the current version of the bill, HHS staff now have virtual carte blanche to promise all sorts of “state specific population adjustment factors” to influence the votes of wavering senators.

The potential for even more backroom deals than the prior versions of “repeal-and-replace” demonstrates the pernicious power that trillions of dollars in spending delivers to Washington. Draining the swamp shouldn’t involve distributing money from Washington out to states, whether under a simple formula or executive discretion. It should involve eliminating Washington’s role in doling out money entirely.

That’s what Republicans promised when they said they would repeal Obamacare—to end the law’s spending, not work on “spreading the wealth around.” That’s what they should deliver.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

On Health Care, Federalism to the Rescue

Temporary setbacks can often yield important knowledge that leads to more meaningful accomplishments—a lesson senators should remember while pondering the recent fate of their health-care legislation. This past week, frictions caused by federalism helped create the legislative stalemate, but the forces of federalism can also pave the way for a solution.

Moderates opposed to the bill raised two contradictory objections. Senators whose states expanded Medicaid lobbied hard to keep that expansion in their home states. Those same senators objected to repealing all of Obamacare’s insurance mandates and regulations, insisting that all other states keep adhering to a Washington-imposed standard.

The High Prices Are The Fault of Too Many Rules

As the Congressional Budget Office score of the legislation indicates, the lack of regulatory relief under the bill would create real problems in insurance markets. Specifically, CBO found that low-income individuals likely would not purchase coverage, because such individuals would face a choice between low-premium plans with unaffordable deductibles or low-deductible plans with unaffordable premiums.

The budget analysts noted that this affordability dilemma has its roots in Obamacare’s mandated benefits package. Because of the Obamacare requirements not repealed under the bill, insurers would be “constrained” in their ability to offer plans that, for instance, provide prescription drug coverage or coverage for a few doctor visits before meeting the (high) deductible.

CBO concluded that the waiver option available under the Senate bill would, if a state chose it, ease the regulatory constraints on insurers “at least somewhat.” But those waivers only apply to some—not all—of the Obamacare regulations, and could be subject to changes in the political climate. With governors able to apply for—and presumably withdraw from—the waiver program unilaterally, states’ policy decisions could swing rapidly, and in ways that exacerbate uncertainty and instability.

If You Want Obamacare, You Can Enact It at the State Level

On Medicaid, conservatives have already granted moderates significant concessions, allowing states to keep their expansions in perpetuity. The controversy now stems around whether the federal government should continue to keep paying states a higher federal match to cover childless adults than individuals with disabilities—a proposition that tests standards of fairness and equity.

However, critics of the bill’s changes to Medicaid raise an important point. As CBO noted, states “would not have additional flexibility” under the per capita caps created by the bill to manage their Medicaid programs. Without that flexibility, states might face greater pressure to find savings with a cleaver rather than a scalpel—cutting benefits, lowering reimbursement rates, or restricting eligibility, rather than improving care.

Several years ago, a Medicaid waiver granted to Rhode Island showed what flexibility can do for a state, reducing per-beneficiary spending for several years in a row by better managing care, not cutting it. When revising the bill, senators should give all Medicaid programs the flexibility Rhode Island received from the Bush administration when it applied for its waiver in 2009. They should also work to ensure that the bill will not fiscally disadvantage states that choose the additional flexibility of a block grant compared to the per capita caps.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Yet Another Report Documents Obamacare’s Failure to Control Premiums

Earlier today the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality released a breakdown of premiums in employer-sponsored insurance in the ten largest states, based on Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) data from 2010.  When compared to prior-year MEPS data from 2009, the two reports illustrate the continued increase in premiums for employer-sponsored coverage.

In 2010, premiums for family coverage nationwide increased by $844, or more than $70 a month – a 6.5% increase.  And premiums for single coverage increased by an average of $271 per year, or more than $20 per month.

On a state-by-state level, eight out of nine states included in both years’ surveys saw premium increases. (New Jersey dropped out of the ten most populous states following the 2010 census, and thus was not included in both years’ reports.)  The lone exception was Michigan, which faced flat to slightly declining premiums for employer coverage – a fact that one can reasonably attribute to the auto industry restructuring of 2009-2010 (i.e., significant reductions in employer-provided insurance benefits) rather than any slowdown in cost growth.  Four states saw family premiums skyrocket by more than $1,000 per year – and at $995 and $973, respectively, Illinois and New York weren’t far behind.

Remember that candidate Obama promised to cut premiums by $2,500 for the average American family – and his advisers told the New York Times that “We think we could get to $2,500 in savings by the end of the first term, or be very close to it.”  More than halfway into his term, the facts not only prove that Obamacare hasn’t brought premiums down – premiums continue to rise, and will only go higher as Obamacare is implemented.

 

 

  Average Single Premium, 2009 Average Single Premium, 2010 Increase Average Family Premium, 2009 Average Family Premium, 2010 Increase
California $4,631 $4,811 $180 $12,631 $13,819 $1,188
Texas $4,499 $4,951 $452 $13,221 $14,526 $1,305
New York $5,121 $5,220 $99 $13,757 $14,730 $973
Florida $4,488 $5,120 $632 $12,912 $15,032 $2,120
Illinois $4,725 $5,067 $342 $13,708 $14,703 $995
Pennsylvania $4,749 $4,959 $210 $13,229 $13,550 $321
Ohio $4,261 $4,669 $408 $11,870 $13,083 $1,213
Michigan $4,916 $4,713 ($203) $13,160 $13,148 ($12)
Georgia $4,692 $4,786 $94 $12,792 $13,114 $322
             
UNITED STATES $4,669 $4,940 $271 $13,027 $13,871 $844

 

Legislative Bulletin: H.R. 847, James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act

As you are probably aware, once impeachment proceedings conclude tomorrow the Senate will vote to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to:

  • Firefighters/collective bargaining, S.3991
  • $250 social security checks, S.395
  • DREAM Act, S.3992
  • 9-11 Health bill, H.R. 847

If cloture is invoked on the motion to proceed on any of the bills, the vote series will stop, and the Senate will consume the 30 hour post-cloture time on the motion to proceed to that bill.  In other words, we will only vote on the motion to proceed to H.R. 847, the 9/11 bill, today if cloture is NOT invoked on the first three measures.

A summary of H.R. 847 follows below.  Note that while we have heard rumors about the pay-for being changed, we have received no official word on same; regardless of what amendments may be offered if we actually move to the bill, we are voting on the House-passed bill, and a summary of that legislation’s revenue pay-for is included below.

And to clarify one point, the CBO score of H.R. 847 indicates that the measure will spend $7.4 billion in its first ten years, not $10.5 billion.  The text of the legislation also appropriates up to $4.2 billion in the bill’s second decade, meaning up to a total of $11.6 billion could be spent over the entire 20-year period.

 

H.R. 847 would amend the Public Health Service Act to establish new federal programs for 9/11 workers related to health monitoring and treatments, and expand eligibility for the 9/11 victim compensation fund.  Specific details of the legislation include the following:

World Trade Center Health Program:  The bill would establish within the Department of Health and Human Services a new program to provide medical monitoring, screening, and treatment to workers (including federal employees) who responded to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC), and residents of New York City “who were directly impacted and adversely affected by such attacks.”  The program is intended to provide:

  • Medical monitoring for those exposed to airborne toxins or other hazards;
  • Screening for community members;
  • Treatment for “all medically necessary health and mental health care expenses (including necessary prescription drugs)” for both responders and community members;
  • Outreach to potentially eligible individuals to inform them of benefits available;
  • Uniform data collection and monitoring; and
  • Research on health conditions arising from the World Trade Center attacks.

Specific details of the program include:

Payments:  H.R. 847 provides that all health benefits provided under the program will be provided “without any deductibles, co-payments, or other cost-sharing” by the individual.  (Reimbursement to the program by the City of New York is addressed below.)  The bill provides for the creation of quality control and anti-fraud elements within the new program, and incorporates existing anti-fraud penalties to the WTC program.

Advisory and Steering Committees:  The bill creates a scientific and technical advisory committee to provide expertise on eligibility criteria and WTC-related health conditions, and two steering committees—one for WTC responders, the other for survivors—to co-ordinate the screening and treatment of eligible members.

Outreach:  The bill includes language requiring the Program Administrator to establish a website, create partnerships with local agencies, and take other measures necessary to inform potentially eligible beneficiaries of the existence of the WTC program.

Centers of Excellence:  The bill directs the Administrator to enter into contracts with Centers of Excellence with respect to monitoring, treating, and counseling individuals related to WTC-related health conditions.  Centers of Excellence include those facilities designated by the Administrator that have experience in treating WTC responders and survivors and meet other specified requirements.  The bill would reimburse Centers of Excellence “at a fair and appropriate” negotiated rate for their fixed infrastructure costs; payments for patients’ treatments would be made as outlined below.

Eligibility for Responders Program:  H.R. 847 includes several categories of 9/11-related responders eligible for the new federal health care program, provided they meet eligibility requirements and have a WTC-related health condition.  The bill would expand eligibility for the new program to persons who “performed rescue, recovery, demolition, debris cleanup, or other related services in the New York City disaster area” and meet certain criteria with respect to airborne toxins (persons categorized as meeting “modified criteria”).  H.R. 847 also specifies categories of currently eligible individuals in line to receive treatment covered by the program, including:

  • New York City Fire Department employees, and retirees, who “participated at least one day in the rescue and recovery effort at any of the former World Trade sites (including Ground Zero, Staten Island landfill, and the New York City Chief Medical Examiner’s office)” at any point between September 11, 2001 and July 31, 2002;
  • Surviving immediate family members of New York City firefighters, and retired firefighters, killed on September 11 at the World Trade Center who received mental health treatment related to their loss before September 1, 2008—but such individuals are only subject to reimbursement for mental health treatments;
  • Participants in the WTC cleanup efforts in Lower Manhattan (defined as areas south of Canal Street), the Staten Island landfill, or the barge loading piers who worked:
    • At least 4 hours between September 11 and September 14, 2001;
    • At least 24 hours between September 11 and September 30, 2001; or
    • At least 80 hours between September 11, 2001, and July 31, 2002;
  • New York City and Port Authority police, and retirees, who worked:
    • At least 4 hours between September 11 and September 14, 2001 in Lower Manhattan, the Staten Island landfill, or the barge loading piers;
    • At least 24 hours between September 11 and September 30, 2001 in Lower Manhattan;
    • At least 80 hours between September 11, 2001, and July 31, 2002 in Lower Manhattan; or
    • One day at Ground Zero, the Staten Island landfill, or the barge loading piers (but not Lower Manhattan as a whole) between September 11, 2001, and July 31, 2002;
  • Workers in the New York City Medical Examiner’s office between September 11, 2001 and July 31, 2002;
  • Workers in the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation tunnel who worked at least 24 hours between February 1, 2002, and July 1, 2002; and
  • Vehicle maintenance workers exposed to debris for one day between September 11, 2001 and July 31, 2002.

The bill also extends eligibility to those fire and police workers and other volunteers who participated in cleanup efforts at the Pentagon or in Shanksville, PA in the days following the September 11 attacks.  The bill includes provisions for an application process lasting no more than 60 days, and an appeal in cases where applications are initially denied.

The bill limits the number of beneficiaries to a maximum of 25,000 who at any time qualify for the program, with no more than 2,500 meeting “modified criteria,” but exempts from the numerical cap those beneficiaries already receiving treatment for an identified WTC-related condition at the time of the bill’s enactment.

Expected Eligibility and Participation:  According to a Congressional Budget Office score of an earlier version of H.R. 847 released in June:

CBO estimates that roughly 650,000 individuals from the NYC disaster area—approximately 75,000 responders and 575,000 survivors—would meet the exposure requirements specified in the legislation, along with potentially another 10,000 responders from the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, sites.  Although many of those individuals may have or develop health conditions related to the terrorist attacks, CBO estimates that only a portion would participate in the WTC Health Program and apply for an award under the VCF [Victim Compensation Fund].  Overall, CBO expects that of the total population that meets the exposure requirements, slightly less than 15 percent [about 99,000 individuals] would enroll in the WTC Health Program by 2020 and slightly more than 5 percent [about 33,000 individuals] would receive awards from the VCF.

Conditions Eligible for Treatment:  The bill defines a WTC-related health condition as “an illness or health condition for which exposure to airborne toxins, any other hazard, or any other adverse condition resulting from the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center…is substantially likely to be a significant factor in aggravating, contributing to, or causing the illness or health condition,” or a mental health condition for which the attacks are “substantially likely to be a significant factor in aggravating, contributing to, or causing the condition.”  The bill includes a list of aerodigestive (i.e., asthma and other pulmonary conditions), musculoskeletal, and mental health diseases (including post-traumatic stress disorder) that qualify for treatment.

H.R. 847 also includes an application process to add additional illnesses subject to review by the Administrator and the Advisory Committees, and permits physicians at Centers of Excellence to receive federal payments for treatments for WTC-related diseases not yet identified as such under the provisions above, subject to a subsequent determination by the Administrator as to whether or not the condition will be added to the eligible list of diseases.

Standards for Treatment:  The bill limits treatments paid for by the federal government to medically necessary standards, subject to protocols developed by the Administrator.  The bill includes provisions for an appeals process with respect to medical necessity determinations.

Payment Levels:  H.R. 847 provides that payments to physicians and other medical providers would generally be based upon reimbursement levels under the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA), which governs federal workers compensation claims.  The bill also includes language establishing a competitive bidding process among vendors to govern pharmaceutical purchases by eligible beneficiaries, and permits the Administrator to designate reimbursement rates for other services not referenced in the bill language.

Eligibility for Survivors:  H.R. 847 creates a separate program for various segments of the community affected by the World Trade Center attacks.  Eligible groups of individuals include:

  • “A person who was present in the New York City disaster area [defined as any area in Manhattan south of Houston Street and any block in Brooklyn within a 1.5 mile radius of the WTC site] in the dust or dust cloud on September 11, 2001;”
  • Individuals who “worked, resided, or attended school, child care, or adult day care in the New York City disaster area” for at least four days between September 11, 2001 and January 10, 2002—or at least 30 days between September 11, 2001 and July 31, 2002;
  • “Any person who worked as a clean-up worker or performed maintenance work in the New York City disaster area” between September 11, 2001 and January 10, 2002 “and had extensive exposure to WTC dust as a result of such work;”
  • Individuals residing or having a place of employment in the New York City disaster area between September 11, 2001 and May 31, 2003, and deemed eligible to receive grants from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation;
  • Any individuals receiving treatment at the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center as of the date of the bill’s enactment; or
  • Additional individuals who claim a WTC-related health condition, as determined by the Administrator in consultation with the WTC committees.

The bill includes an application and certification process for community beneficiaries similar to that for responder beneficiaries discussed above.  The bill limits the number of beneficiaries to a maximum of 25,000 who at any time qualify for the program, of which no more than 2,500 may be individuals enrolled based on modified eligibility criteria, but exempts from the numerical cap those beneficiaries already receiving treatment for an identified WTC-related condition at the time of the bill’s enactment.

Beneficiaries under the community-based program would generally receive the same benefits and treatments as the WTC responders, except that the community-based program does not include musculoskeletal disorders in the list of identified health conditions (although some or all of these could be added under the process described above).

Treatment for Other Individuals:  H.R. 847 establishes an additional capped fund to finance care for those living in the New York disaster area at the time of the September 11 attacks, but not meeting the criteria listed above, who have been diagnosed with an identified WTC-related health condition.  The bill caps such spending at $20 million in Fiscal Year 2012, rising annually according to medical inflation rates.

Care Outside New York:  The bill would require the Administrator to “establish a nationwide network of health care providers” to treat eligible recipients outside the New York City metropolitan area, subject to certain reporting and quality requirements.

Research:  The bill would require the WTC Administrator to establish an epidemiological research program on health conditions arising from the World Trade Center attacks.  The program would cover diagnosis and treatment of WTC-related health conditions among responders and in sample populations from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, “to identify potential for long-term adverse health effects in less exposed populations.”

Payers:  In cases where an individual is eligible for workman’s compensation, or holds other private or public health insurance coverage, the bill provides that the federal government’s WTC program shall serve as a secondary payer for such claims, similar to the Medicare Secondary Payer program, except that the WTC program would serve as the primary payer for those eligible for Medicare.  Beginning in July 2014, the bill requires individuals to maintain health insurance, as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, in order to qualify for participation in the program.

The bill stipulates that “no funds may be disbursed” unless New York City has entered into a contract to pay for 10 percent of the expenditures necessary to carry out the title in Fiscal Years 2012 through 2018, and a specified similar amount for Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020, amounts that cannot be derived from any federal sources.

Funding:  The bill creates a fund to finance the programs established above, and provides a total of $3.35 billion in direct appropriations for Fiscal Years 2011-2019.  The bill provides up to an additional $1.1 billion in direct spending for Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020, provided that prior years’ spending did not reach the $3.35 billion cap, and that the cap is not exceeded through Fiscal Year 2020.  However, in its score of H.R. 847, the Congressional Budget Office said it “expects that the cap will be reached in 2019 and estimates that no additional health program spending would occur in 2020.”

Changes to September 11 Compensation Fund:  In addition to establishing the new programs established above, H.R. 847 would also make several changes to the September 11 victim compensation fund established in 2001 (Title IV of P.L. 107-42), as listed below.

Extension for Applications:  H.R. 847 would reopen applications to the September 11 compensation fund in cases where the Special Master for the compensation fund determines that the individual became aware of physical injuries suffered as a result of the September 11 attacks after applications to the compensation fund were closed.  The bill would generally reopen applications for the reasons stated above (and for individuals subject to the expanded eligibility provisions noted below) for two years after the individual knew, or should have known, of such injuries, provided the individual seeks treatment in a prompt manner and the claim can be verified.  Additional claims applications under this extension would be accepted through December 22, 2031.

Expansion of Eligibility Definitions:  The bill would modify the definition of eligibility for compensation to define the “immediate aftermath” of the September 11 attacks as including time through August 30, 2002.  The bill would also expand eligibility to include workers handling debris from the World Trade Center, including “any area contiguous to a site of [the 9/11] crashes that the Special Master determines was sufficiently close to the site that there was a demonstrable risk of physical harm” and “any area related to, or along, routes of debris removal,” including (but not limited to) the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island.

Applicability to Pending Lawsuits:  H.R. 847 would require debris workers or other individuals with pending legal claims relating to 9/11-related injuries, and wishing to seek compensation from the victim compensation fund, to withdraw those legal actions within 90 days after updated regulations regarding the fund application extension are promulgated.  The bill would permit individuals whose applications are denied by the Special Master subsequently to reinstitute their legal claims without prejudice within 90 days of the ineligibility determination—a right not granted to fund applications under the original 9/11 victims compensation program.

Limited Liability:  H.R. 847 limits the liability for construction and related contractors regarding workers’ claims to the sum of the funds available in the WTC Captive Insurance Company, an amount not exceeding $350 million from New York City, and the amount of all available insurance held by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the relevant contractors and sub-contractors.

Funding:  The bill caps federal funding for new claims on the 9/11 compensation fund at $8.4 billion—$4.2 billion for the first ten year period following enactment, and $4.2 billion for the second ten year period.  The bill allows the Special Master to “ratably reduce” compensation payments over each ten year period such that all eligible individuals would receive payments during the first ten years, with the remaining balance provided during the second ten year period.

Attorneys Fees:  The bill caps attorneys fees at 10 percent of the award amount, subject to several exceptions.  The bill provides that “with respect to a claim made on behalf of an individual for whom a lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of New York prior to January 1, 2009, in the event that the representative believes in good faith that the limit [on fees]…will not provide adequate compensation for services rendered,” that representative may appeal to the Special Master for a higher fee award.

Additional Background on 9/11 Compensation Fund:  As noted above, Title IV of Public Law 107-42 authorized payments by the federal government to individuals injured or killed as a result of the September 11 attacks; eligible individuals (victims injured and families of individuals killed in the attacks) received $7 billion in payments before the fund closed in 2004.  Justice Department statistics note that during its operation, the fund issued award letters to 5,562 families whose relatives were killed in the September 11 attacks, and to 2,682 claimants suffering personal injuries as a result of the attacks.

While the process created under the law, and administered by Special Master Kenneth Feinberg, was praised by many victims’ families, Members of Congress, and outside experts as fair and judicious, proponents of H.R. 847 assert that first responders who worked at the World Trade Center site have incurred respiratory and other injuries as a result of the toxins inhaled at Ground Zero—but that these conditions only became manifest after the application period provided for in P.L. 107-42 expired.  Title II of H.R. 847 would therefore seek to reopen the compensation fund to allow these workers, and other individuals, to make claims for compensation.

However, asked by House Judiciary Committee Republican staff in 2008 to comment on a proposed draft of Title II in an earlier version of the legislation considered during the 110th Congress, former Special Master Feinberg responded with an e-mail noting several concerns with the approach taken by the bill sponsors and the majority.  These concerns included:

  • An extension of the eligibility definition of “immediate aftermath” from the first four days following September 11 (as prescribed in regulations creating the compensation fund) to August 30, 2002— which could result in “a huge influx of additional claims” and could cause some individuals to re-apply for compensation;
  • Language that “vastly extends [the fund’s] geographic scope,” potentially leading to “thousands and thousands of additional claimants” and causing additional individuals to re-apply for compensation;
  • An extension of the filing period until 2031—“no latent claims need such an extended date;”
  • Provisions requiring the Special Master to determine when an individual first knew or should have known about their injuries—“how can the Special Master possibly make that determination?” and
  • Language permitting individuals denied eligibility for compensation to return to the tort system and re-file their claims—a right which was specifically denied as a pre-condition for initial applicants of the 9/11 fund, but which some who were denied compensation by the Special Master may now attempt to exercise.

House Judiciary Committee Republican staff note that, to the extent the 9/11 compensation fund is re-opened, Mr. Feinberg recommends that it be done solely to allow first responders with diseases not manifest at the time of the initial application period to receive compensation—language narrower in scope than the provisions discussed above.

Treaty Withholding:  H.R. 847 is paid for by raising revenue on companies located in the United States that are employing American workers.  Under current law, certain payments (principally dividends, interest, and royalties) made by U.S.-based entities to a parent company based overseas are subject to a 30 percent withholding tax, unless the payment is made to a country with which the U.S. has a tax treaty.  In some circumstances, companies with parents located in countries without a tax treaty are able to effectively bypass the withholding tax by routing payments through a subsidiary in a tax treaty country, which then transfers the funds to the parent in the non-treaty country.  The provision would attempt to limit this practice by retaining a withholding tax to a foreign-based affiliate unless the tax would be reduced under a treaty if the payment had been made directly to the company’s parent corporation.

Playing a “Trick” on the American People: Reconciliation and Democrats’ Government Takeover of Health Care

“I’ve never passed a single bill worth talking about that didn’t have as a lead co-sponsor a Republican.  And I don’t know of a single piece of legislation that’s ever been adopted here that didn’t have a Republican and a Democrat in the lead.  That’s because we need to sit down and work with each other.  The rules of this institution have required that – that’s why we exist.”

— Senator Dodd, Senate floor speech on 51-vote majority rule, May 23, 2005[i]

 

In a speech on health care today, President Obama endorsed passage of comprehensive health care legislation through a partisan process known as reconciliation. While the President may attempt to portray his approach as a fair process, the facts show this process to be a partisan attempt to pass a health plan overwhelmingly rejected by the American people:

Reconciliation Has Been a Largely Bipartisan Process

  • An RPC analysis of 22 reconciliation measures passed since 1980—19 measures enacted into law and three vetoed—found that most reconciliation bills have followed a bipartisan path.
  • The 19 reconciliation bills enacted into law were passed with an average of 68 Senate votes and 286 House votes—strong bipartisan majorities by any definition. In fact, three of the 19 reconciliation bills were passed by voice vote in either the House or the Senate.[ii]
  • The 22 reconciliation bills considered in both chambers were passed with an average of 18 minority-party votes in the Senate and 72 votes from the minority in the House.[iii]

Reconciliation Has Never Been Used Solely for Health Care Legislation

  • While Democrats have argued that other health-related programs have been included in budget reconciliation bills, that argument obscures the fact that health provisions have comprised portions of past reconciliation bills, rather than the entirety of them.
  • For instance, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), created in 1997, constituted only 19 pages of the 537-page Balanced Budget Act (P.L. 105-33). And the Congressional Budget Office score of the legislation notes that the bill spent only $20 billion on SCHIP while achieving $160 billion—eight times that amount—in gross deficit savings.[iv] Moreover, the Balanced Budget Act itself was passed on strong bipartisan votes of 346-85 in the House and 85-15 in the Senate—meaning the 60-vote filibuster threshold was never an issue.[v]
  • Likewise, provisions providing COBRA continuation health insurance coverage in 1986 and reforming welfare in 1996 each received 78 Senate votes, with 38 Democrats supporting the majority Republicans in 1986 and 25 Democrats in 1996.[vi]
  • The largest health care bill in the past 40 years was NOT passed through reconciliation. When Republicans created the Medicare Part D program in 2003, the Medicare Modernization Act (P.L. 108-173) proceeded through regular order, and 12 Senate Democrats supported its passage.[vii]

Democrats Using “Tricks” to Subvert the Will of the People

  • Democrats themselves have outlined the procedural chicanery necessary to pass a health care bill under reconciliation; Speaker Pelosi’s chief health advisor was recently quoted as saying “there’s a trick” involved in passing health legislation under the reconciliation procedures.[viii]
  • The only reconciliation bills enacted into law on straight party-line votes were the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171) and the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-66). The latter bill, passed by a Democratic Congress and President, contained the largest tax increase in American history—more than $240 billion over five years.[ix]
  • Having lost Congress in 1994 after using a partisan reconciliation process to pass the largest tax increase in American history, Democrats are now attempting to jam through via reconciliation health legislation containing at least $518.5 billion in additional tax increases in the next decade.[x]
  • The American people have stated repeatedly they do not want Democrats to pass their massive health care bill—a message delivered resoundingly in town hall meetings across the country; in elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts; and in poll after poll. Last week, a CNN poll found nearly three in four Americans want Congress to either start over (48%) or stop working on health care entirely (25%); “nearly 4 in 10 Democrats say…Congress should start from scratch.”[xi]

The voters of Massachusetts did not approve of Democrats’ backroom dealing on health care, and instead decided to elect Republican Scott Brown. Many may therefore view the latest proposed “trick” by Democrats in Congress as yet another attempt to defy the will of the voters in order to enact an unpopular government takeover of health care.

 

[i] Video available at http://www.breitbart.tv/obama-dems-in-2005-51-vote-nuclear-option-is-arrogant-power-grab-against-the-founders-intent/.

[ii] RPC vote analysis of reconciliation bills included in 2008 Congressional Research Service report, http://www.crs.gov/Pages/Reports.aspx?ProdCode=RL30458.

[iii] Ibid. Vote analysis for majority party support excludes legislation passed by unanimous consent or voice votes.

[iv] Congressional Budget Office, score of Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-33), http://cbo.gov/ftpdocs/0xx/doc22/summary.pdf.

[v] House roll call vote 345 of 1997; Senate record vote 209 of 1997.

[vi] Senate record votes 379 of 1985 and 262 of 1996.

[vii] Senate record votes 458 and 459 of 2003.

[viii] Quoted in “Pelosi Aide Outlines Health Care Endgame,” CongressDaily PM, February 9, 2009, http://www.nationaljournal.com/congressdaily/cd_20100209_8456.php.

[ix] Joint Committee on Taxation analysis of conference report to accompany H.R. 2264 (103rd Congress), August 4, 1993, http://jct.gov/publications.html?func=startdown&id=2907.

[x] Figures based on Congressional Budget Office and JCT analyses of H.R. 3590 as passed by the Senate. President Obama has proposed additional tax increases to fund yet more government health care spending as part of his own health proposal.

[xi] “CNN Poll: Health Care Provisions Popular but Overall Bills Unpopular,” February 24, 2009, http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/02/24/cnn-poll-health-care-provisions-popular-but-overall-bills-unpopular/?fbid=8ZyhGa7YYHi.

Legislative Bulletin: Senate Amendments to H.R. 2, Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act

Order of Business: On February 14, 2009, the Senate amendments to H.R. 2 are expected to be considered on the floor under a closed rule, requiring a majority vote for passage.  The rule is expected to waive all points of order against the bill, except those arising under clauses 10 of rule XXI (PAYGO), and provide for one hour of debate, equally divided between the Majority and the Minority.

This legislation was introduced by Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) on January 13, 2009, and originally passed by the House by a vote of 289-139 on January 14, 2009.  The Senate passed its version of the bill by a vote of 66-32 on January 29, 2009.

Summary of Senate Changes Made: During consideration of H.R. 2 in the Senate, several changes were made to the legislation; those changes will be voted on by the House.  Among the more important changes, the Senate bill:

  • Accelerates the phase-out of childless adults from September 30, 2010 to December 31, 2009;
  • Removes a requirement that parents provide a signature on documents allowing their children to be enrolled by “Express Lane” agencies, as outlined below.  Some Members may be concerned that removing the signature requirement would further increase the risk of fraud associated with the new “Express Lane” procedures;
  • Expands States’ ability to cover legal aliens in Medicaid and SCHIP, permitting coverage for all children under age 21, instead of permitting coverage for all children under age 19 as in the original House bill;
  • Permits States to establish dental-only supplemental “wrap-around” SCHIP coverage for children enrolled in group health insurance coverage;
  • Establishes a new Medicaid Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC), similar to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC).  Some Members may be concerned that this provision first would establish a new federal bureaucracy, and second that both its membership—which will include consumer and advocacy groups—and its stated purpose—which focuses on maintaining access—will result in a primary focus on expanding the scope and reach of federal Medicaid spending, rather than restoring the program’s fiscal integrity and improving its quality of care;
  • Removes restrictions on physician-owned specialty hospitals originally contained in the House legislation; and
  • Raises the amount of the tobacco tax increase from 61 cents to 62 cents per pack (which would increase total federal tobacco taxes from 39 cents to $1.01).  Some Members may be concerned that this further increase would place additional tax burdens on working families during an economic downturn.

Summary: The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), established under the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) of 1997, is a state-federal partnership originally designed to provide low-income children with health insurance—specifically, those children under age 19 from families with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), or $42,400 for a family of four in 2008.  Funds are provided to states on the basis of capped allotments, and states receive an “enhanced” federal match greater than the federal Medicaid matching rate in order to enroll covered children.  SCHIP received nearly $40 billion in funding over ten years as part of BBA, and legislation passed by Congress in December 2007 (P.L. 110-173) extended the program through March 2009, while providing additional SCHIP funds for states.

H.R. 2 would reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), as follows:

Funding and Allotments: The bill would maintain the current capped allotment method of SCHIP financing but would increase the allotments over the four and a half year period of the reauthorization (through September 30, 2013).  Including funding for the first half of the current fiscal year (i.e. through March 30, 2009) already provided under P.L. 110-173, the bill would include total SCHIP funding of nearly $69 billion—an increase of almost $44 billion in SCHIP outlays when compared to the statutory baseline.

The bill increases funding levels for the five fiscal years covered in the program—a total of $10.6 billion in FY09, $12.5 billion in FY10, $13.5 billion in FY11, and nearly $15 billion in FY12.  For Fiscal Year 2013, the bill includes a total of $17.4 billion in funding.  However, this funding would be delivered in two installments—one appropriation of $14.55 billion in October 2012, and a second six-month appropriation of $2.85 billion in March 2013.  Some Members may be concerned that this funding “cliff”—which presumes a 66% reduction in SCHIP expenses, from $17.4 billion in FY13 to $5.7 billion in FY14—is a budgetary gimmick designed primarily to mask the true costs of an SCHIP expansion.

The bill shortens from three years to two years the amount of time states have to utilize their allotment funding and provides that unused state allotments would be redirected to states projected to have allotment shortfalls after that period.  The bill rebases state allotments every two years to reflect actual state expenditures and provides that state allotments will increase annually to reflect increases in health care expenditures and the growth of child populations within each state.  The bill language would permit states to obtain increases in their allotments to reflect planned future expansions of SCHIP coverage and would allow certain states to receive the enhanced SCHIP federal matching rate (if funds are available from the state’s allotment) for Medicaid coverage of children in families with incomes above 133% FPL ($28,196 for a family of four in 2008).

Child Enrollment Contingency Fund: The bill would establish a new contingency fund within the U.S. Treasury for states that exceed their allotments, while also increasing enrollment at a rate that exceeds the states’ child population growth by at least 1%.  The money within the contingency fund would be carved out from the SCHIP allotments described above and could not exceed 20% of overall SCHIP funding.  Some Members may be concerned that the fund—which does not include provisions making additional payments contingent on enrolling the low-income children­ for which the program was designed—will therefore help to subsidize wealthier children in states which have expanded their programs to higher-income populations, diverting SCHIP funds from the program’s original purpose.

Performance Bonus Payments: The bill creates a new performance bonus payment mechanism to offset state costs associated with enrollment outreach and retention activities.  States which increase coverage of eligible low-income children in Medicaid by at least 2% will be eligible for bonuses of up to 15% of each beneficiary’s projected costs, and states which exceed their targets for enrolling eligible children by at least 10% will become eligible for additional bonus payments of up to 62.5%.

Funding for the performance bonus system under the bill totals at least $3.3 billion, which would be increased by any allotments not obligated to the states or any state allotments not expended or redistributed to other states.  State eligibility for the performance bonuses would remain contingent on states’ use of several practices designed to increase ease of enrollment, including continuous eligibility for at least 12 months, eliminating or liberalizing asset tests associated with enrollment applications, automatic administrative renewal, presumptive eligibility for children, and participation in the “Express Lane” process outlined below.

As there are no provisions linking payment of performance bonuses to the enrollment of low-income children, some Members may be concerned that these performance bonuses may provide an inducement to instead enroll children from wealthier families, diverting the program from its original intent.  Some Members may also be concerned that the provision linking performance bonuses to the adoption of at least four so-called best practices for enrollment—including the “Express Lane” process—will provide a strong financial incentive for states not to scrutinize the eligibility of certain applicants.

Coverage of Pregnant Women: The bill adds new language permitting states to utilize SCHIP funding to cover low-income, pregnant women.  The bill imposes several requirements on states seeking to use SCHIP funds to cover pregnant women, including a minimum eligibility threshold of at least 185% FPL (and not below the Medicaid eligibility threshold) for pregnant women only after covering all children under and 200% FPL without a waiting list or other enrollment cap to limit children’s participation in the program.  The provision provides that children born to certain low-income pregnant women participating in SCHIP will automatically be enrolled in the program for the child’s first year.

Coverage of Childless Adults: The bill prohibits the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from approving further waivers to cover childless adults under the SCHIP program and phases out SCHIP coverage of childless adults effective December 31, 2009.  The bill also allows states to apply for a Medicaid waiver to continue to cover childless adults but at the lower Medicaid matching rate instead of the enhanced SCHIP rate.  Some Members may be concerned that the bill would permit the continued coverage of childless adults within SCHIP for nearly a year—and for indefinite periods beyond that using the lower Medicaid match rate—diverting its focus from the targeted low-income children for whom it was created.

Coverage of Low-Income Parents: The bill also prohibits the issuance of new SCHIP waivers permitting the coverage of low-income parents and phases out parent coverage.  States may request an automatic two-year extension to cover low-income parents, and may continue coverage of low-income parents through the length of the authorization legislation (i.e. until October 2013), provided the state does not increase its income eligibility thresholds for parent coverage.  Some Members may be concerned that the bill would permit the continued coverage of low-income adults within SCHIP for at least five years, diverting its focus from the targeted low-income children for whom it was created.

Coverage of Higher-Income Children: The bill places certain restrictions on states’ matching rate for coverage of children in families with “effective family income” higher than 300% FPL—$63,600 for a family of four in 2008—to the lower Medicaid match rate, rather than the enhanced SCHIP federal match.  Specifically, the bill would prohibit states from using a “general exclusion of a block of income that is not determined by type of expense or type of income.”  This provision is designed to address an issue related by New Jersey’s SCHIP program, which disregards all income between 200-350% FPL for purposes of eligibility—thus making children in families with incomes up to $74,200 eligible for federal health benefits.

However, the bill expressly retains states’ ability to disregard unlimited amounts of income by type of income (i.e. salary, capital gains) or type of expense (i.e. disregard all housing-related expenses)—thus permitting states to continue to use “income disregards” effectively to ignore some or all of a family’s income for purposes of determining whether the family income falls below the 300% FPL threshold.  And the bill grandfathers in states (i.e. New Jersey) that already have programs in place using blanket income disregards.

Some Members may be concerned first that this provision does not prohibit states from expanding their Medicaid programs to families with incomes above $64,000, and second that the provisions allowing continued use of “income disregards” will only encourage states to use such mechanisms to expand their SCHIP programs to wealthier families—rather than covering poor children first.

Crowd-Out Provisions: The bill does not contain provisions to reduce “crowd-out”—that is, individuals leaving private coverage in order to join a government program—included in both versions of SCHIP legislation (H.R. 976, H.R. 3963) in 2007.  Those provisions included several studies about the extent to which crowd-out occurs within SCHIP, best practices on how to reduce crowd-out, and authority for the Secretary to reduce payments to states enrolling too many children above 300% FPL.  Some Members may be concerned that removal of these provisions will remove the last disincentive for states to enroll large numbers of children in families with incomes above $64,000—and possibly well above that threshold.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would result in 2.4 million individuals dropping private health insurance coverage to enroll in government programs—a higher level of crowd-out in both number and percentage terms than the first SCHIP bill (H.R. 976) presented to President Bush in 2007.

Outreach and Enrollment Provisions: The bill includes $100 million in new mandatory funding for grants to various entities—including states, localities, elementary and secondary schools, and other non-profit or faith-based organizations—to conduct outreach and enrollment activities, including 10% for a national enrollment campaign and an additional 10% set-aside for the Indian Health Service.  The bill also provides a minimum 75% Medicaid and SCHIP match for translation or interpretation services under the two programs.

“Express Lane” Enrollment Option: The bill permits states to use eligibility determinations from “Express Lane” agencies as a means to facilitate enrollment in Medicaid and SCHIP, including renewals and re-determinations of coverage.  Agencies—including but not limited to those which determine eligibility for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, federal school lunch programs, Head Start, and federal housing assistance—may not deem children ineligible for coverage based solely on an initial adverse determination with respect to income eligibility.

Under the program, states may establish an income threshold 30 percentage points above the Medicaid or SCHIP eligibility limit (i.e. if the SCHIP eligibility limit is 300% FPL, the state may establish a threshold of 330% FPL for purposes of Express Lane determinations).  States may also temporarily enroll children in SCHIP if the child in question “appears eligible” (criteria undefined) based on the Express Lane agency’s income determination, subject to a “prompt follow up” (time limit undefined) by the State as to whether or not the child actually qualifies.  The bill also allows states to “initiate and determine eligibility” for Medicaid or SCHIP “without a program application from, or on behalf of” children based on data from other sources, and only requires parental consent through “affirmation in writing, by telephone, orally, through electronic signature, or through any other means” the Secretary may provide.  Some Members may be concerned that removal of the written signature requirement in the original House bill will increase the risk of fraudulent enrollments in Medicaid and SCHIP.

The bill provides for a annual sample audit of Express Lane cases to establish whether or not the eligibility determinations made comport with eligibility determinations made using the full Medicaid review process and provides for state remedial actions (and eventually payment reductions) if the error rate for such audits exceeds 3%.  The bill sunsets the Express Lane option at the end of the authorization and includes $5 million for a report on its effectiveness.

Some Members may be concerned first that the streamlined verification processes outlined above will facilitate individuals who would not otherwise qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP, due either to their income or citizenship, to obtain federally-paid health benefits.

Citizenship Verification: Current law applies citizenship verification requirements differently to state SCHIP programs, depending upon the nature of the program.  The BBA permitted states to establish separate SCHIP programs, utilize Medicaid expansions to cover eligible populations, or some combination of the two.  The eight states and the District of Columbia that chose Medicaid expansions, along with Medicaid beneficiaries of the 24 states that chose combination programs, must comply with citizenship verification provisions enacted as part of the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA, P.L. 109-171) in 2006.  These procedures—which include verification of citizenship and nationality by presenting any of a variety of documents (e.g. birth certificate, passport, etc.)—were prompted in part by a July 2005 Inspector General report, which found that 47 states (including the District of Columbia) often relied on an applicant’s self-attestation of citizenship to determine Medicaid eligibility and that 27 of these states undertook no effort to determine whether the self-attestation was accurate.  Beneficiaries in the 18 states with separate SCHIP programs are not subject to the DRA verification requirements with respect to either citizenship or nationality.

The bill provides an alternative to the Medicaid citizenship verification process enacted in DRA—and extends this process to beneficiaries in stand-alone SCHIP programs—for children up to age 21 by allowing states to verify applicants’ citizenship through a name and Social Security number match.  If the Social Security Administration finds an invalid match, the state must make “a reasonable effort to identify and address the causes of such invalid match;” in the event the state cannot resolve the discrepancy, it must dis-enroll the individual within 120 days, during which time the individual in question has 90 days to respond and present satisfactory evidence to resolve the mis-match.

States will be required to submit data for each applicant to determine the states’ invalid match rates, but errors will only include cases where the individual has been dis-enrolled by the state after having received SCHIP benefits.  The bill provides that states with error rates above 3% will be required to pay back funds used to pay for ineligible individuals in excess of the 3% threshold—except that the Secretary may waive such a return requirement “if the state is unable to reach the allowable error rate despite a good faith effort.”

Some Members may echo the concerns of Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, who in a September 2007 letter stated that the verification process proposed in the bill would not keep ineligible individuals from receiving federal benefits—since many applicants would instead submit another person’s name and Social Security number to qualify.  Some Members may believe the bill, by laying out a policy of “enroll and chase,” will permit ineligible individuals, including illegal aliens, to obtain federally-paid health coverage for at least four months during the course of the verification process.  Finally, some Members may be concerned that the bill, by not taking remedial action against states for enrolling illegal aliens—which can be waived entirely at the Secretary’s discretion—until states’ error rate exceeds 3%, effectively allows states to provide benefits to illegal aliens.

Coverage of Legal Aliens: The bill would permit states to cover pregnant women and children under 21 who are legal aliens within Medicaid and SCHIP without imposing the five-year waiting period for most legal aliens to receive federal welfare benefits established as part of the welfare reform law (P.L. 104-196) signed by President Clinton in 1996.  For decades, Medicare has maintained a five-year residency requirement for legal aliens to obtain access to benefits; this waiting period was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976, when Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for a unanimous Court in the case of Mathews v. Diaz, held that “it is obvious that Congress has no constitutional duty to provide all aliens with the welfare benefits provided to citizens.”

Some Members may be concerned that permitting states to cover legal aliens without imposing waiting periods will override the language of bipartisan welfare reform legislation passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Democrat President, conflict with decades-long practices in other federally-sponsored entitlement health programs (i.e. Medicare), and encourage migrants to travel to the United States for the sole or primary purpose of receiving health benefits paid for by federal taxpayers.

Premium Assistance: The bill permits states to establish premium assistance programs—which provide state and federal funds to finance employer-sponsored health insurance.  The bill provides that employers must pay at least 40% of premium costs in order for the policy to qualify for premium assistance but prohibits high-deductible policies associated with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) from qualifying under any circumstances.

The bill changes the current premium assistance criteria within SCHIP, such that rather than requiring the cost of covering the entire family through the employer policy be less than the costs to enroll a child in government-run coverage, states should instead use an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the marginal costs of covering the applicable child (or children) when compared to enrolling the child in SCHIP. The bill also permits states to “wrap-around” coverage to supplement the employer policy if the latter does not meet appropriate SCHIP benchmark standards, and to establish a purchasing pool for small employers (i.e. those with fewer than 250 employees) with low-income workers to provide workers options to utilize premium assistance to enroll their families.

The bill requires states that have created premium assistance programs to inform SCHIP applicants of the program and includes provisions regarding coordination with employer coverage and outreach to workers to inform them of premium assistance.  However, the bill does not require states to establish premium assistance programs.  Some Members may therefore be concerned that the bill does not ensure that all children with access to employer-sponsored coverage will be able to maintain their current coverage.

Quality Measures: The bill requires CMS to develop an initial set of child health quality measures for state Medicaid and SCHIP programs, including those administered by managed care organizations, and establish programs allowing states to report such measures and disseminate information to the states on best practices.  The bill includes further requirements for the Department to create a second pediatric quality measures program “to improve and strengthen the initial core child health care quality measures” and authorizes grants and contracts to develop and disseminate evidence-based quality care measures for children’s health.

The bill requires states to report annually on state-specific health quality measures adopted by their Medicaid and/or SCHIP plans and authorizes up to 10 grants for demonstration projects related to improved children’s health care and the promotion of health information technology.  The bill also authorizes (subject to appropriation) $25 million for a demonstration project to reduce childhood obesity by awarding grants to eligible local governments, educational or public health institutions, or community-based organizations.

The bill establishes a program to develop a model electronic health record for Medicaid and SCHIP beneficiaries and authorizes a study on pediatric health quality measures.  These and the other quality programs addressed above would be funded through mandatory appropriations totaling $45 million per fiscal year.

Lastly, the bill applies certain quality provisions to the managed care organizations with whom states contract to provide SCHIP benefits—including marketing restrictions, required disclosures to beneficiaries, and access and quality standards both for the managed care organizations and the state agencies overseeing them.  The bill also requires a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on whether the rates paid to SCHIP managed care plans are actuarially sound.

Enhanced Benefits: The bill requires state SCHIP plans to have access to dental benefits, and mandates that those dental plans resemble a) coverage provided to children under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), b) “a dental benefits plan that is offered and generally available to state employees,” or c) the largest commercially-available dental plan in the state based on the number of covered lives.  States would also be permitted to offer “wrap-around” SCHIP dental benefits packages to supplement children’s employer-sponsored coverage.

The bill includes language requiring mental health parity in state SCHIP benefits, specifically that “financial requirements and treatment limitations applicable to such…benefits” are no more restrictive than those applied to medical and surgical benefits covered by the plan and establishes a prospective payment system for federally qualified health centers receiving Medicaid reimbursements.  The bill also requires that states impose a grace period of at least 30 days on beneficiaries for non-payment of any applicable premiums due before terminating the beneficiaries’ coverage; under current law, such premiums generally only apply to individuals with family incomes above 150% FPL.

Other Provisions: The bill includes language stating that “nothing in this Act allows federal payment for individuals who are not legal residents.”  However, as noted above, the bill provisions allow states to verify SCHIP eligibility without document verification and provide no financial penalties to states enrolling illegal aliens until those errors (which in the case of “Express Lane” applications will be derived from sample audits, not scrutiny of each application) exceed 3%—and these penalties may be waived in the Secretary’s sole discretion.

The bill establishes a new Medicaid Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC), similar to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), and requires the new Commission to submit two annual reports to Congress.  The bill requires the Commission to examine both payment policies for the two programs as well as the program’s impact on “access to covered items and services,” including creation of an “early warning system” designed to draw attention to any “problems that threaten access to care” for beneficiaries.  Some Members may be concerned that this provision first would establish a new federal bureaucracy, and second that both its membership—which will include consumer and related advocacy groups—and its stated purpose on maintaining access will result in a primary focus on expanding the scope and reach of federal Medicaid spending, rather than restoring the program’s fiscal integrity and improving its quality of care.

The bill includes language prohibiting the Department of Health and Human Services from approving any new state Health Opportunity Account demonstrations under the program established in DRA.  Some Members may be concerned that the prohibition on this innovative—and entirely voluntary—program for beneficiaries may hinder beneficiaries’ ability to choose the health plan that best meets their needs.

The bill would disregard any “significantly disproportionate employer pension or insurance fund contribution” when calculating a state’s per capita income for purposes of establishing the federal Medicaid matching percentage for that state.  According to CMS, only one state would benefit from this provision—Michigan.  The bill would also increase Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) allotments for Tennessee and Hawaii and would clarify the treatment of a regional medical center in such a manner that the Congressional Budget Office, in its score of the bill, identified the provision as specifically benefiting the Memphis Regional Medical Center.  Some Members therefore may view these provisions as constituting authorizing earmarks.

Tobacco Tax Increase; Pay-Fors: The bill would increase by 62 cents—from 39 cents to $1.01—the federal per-pack tobacco tax and place similar increases on cigars, cigarette papers and tubes, and smokeless and pipe tobacco products.  Some Members may be concerned that an increase in the tobacco tax, which is highly regressive, would place an undue and unnecessary burden on working families during an economic downturn and could encourage the production of counterfeit cigarettes by criminal organizations and other entities.

Lastly, the bill increases the percentage of payment of certain corporate estimated taxes in the last fiscal quarter of 2013 by 0.5%, and reduces the next applicable estimated tax payment in the first fiscal quarter of 2014 by a similar amount.

Cost: A final CBO score of the Senate amendments was not available at press time.  However, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the original House-passed bill would increase direct spending by a total of $39.4 billion between Fiscal Year 2009 and Fiscal Year 2014, and $73.3 billion over the FY09-FY19 period.  Most of the spending in the first five years of the budget window ($34.3 billion) would be derived from the SCHIP expansion; and Medicaid spending in the latter five years would rise, as the score notes that children enrolled in SCHIP would be shifted to the Medicaid program upon SCHIP’s expiration.  However, both the Medicaid and SCHIP scores are contingent upon provisions in the bill cutting SCHIP spending from $17.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2013 to $5.7 billion in Fiscal Year 2014.  To the extent that Members believe this 66% reduction in SCHIP expenses will not take place, they may be concerned that the funding “cliff” is a budgetary gimmick designed to mask the true costs of the bill’s expansion of health care benefits.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the increase in tobacco taxes would generate $38.8 billion through Fiscal Year 2014, and $72 billion from Fiscal Years 2009-2018.  The bill also increases revenues by $1.6 billion through Fiscal Year 2018 as a result of individuals dropping private health insurance in order to enroll in the SCHIP program, as employees with group health insurance would have less of their income sheltered from payroll and income taxes.

The JCT score on the tobacco tax notes that the tax provisions would generate $7.2 billion in FY10 (the first full year the tax increase would take effect), but only $6.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2019—a decrease of more than 10%.  Some Members may be concerned that expansions of the SCHIP program would rely on a declining source of revenue.

Legislative Bulletin: H.R. 2, Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act

Order of Business: On January 14, 2009, H.R. 2 is expected to be considered on the floor under a likely closed rule, requiring a majority vote for passage. The rule is expected to waive all points of order against the bill, except those arising under clauses 10 of rule XXI (PAYGO), and provide for one hour of debate, equally divided between the Majority and the Minority, with one motion to recommit. This legislation was introduced by Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) on January 13, 2009. The bill was referred to the House Committees on Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means, but was never considered.

Summary: The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), established under the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) of 1997, is a state-federal partnership originally designed to provide low-income children with health insurance—specifically, those children under age 19 from families with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), or $42,400 for a family of four in 2008. Funds are provided to states on the basis of capped allotments, and states receive an “enhanced” federal match greater than the federal Medicaid matching rate in order to enroll covered children. SCHIP received nearly $40 billion in funding over ten years as part of BBA, and legislation passed by Congress in December 2007 (P.L. 110-173) extended the program through March 2009, while providing additional SCHIP funds for states.

H.R. 2 would reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), as follows:

Funding and Allotments: The bill would maintain the current capped allotment method of SCHIP financing but would increase the allotments over the four and a half year period of the reauthorization (through September 30, 2013). Including funding for the first half of the current fiscal year (i.e. through March 30, 2009) already provided under P.L. 110-173, the bill would include total SCHIP funding of nearly $69 billion—an increase of almost $44 billion in SCHIP outlays when compared to the statutory baseline.

The bill increases funding levels for the five fiscal years covered in the program—a total of $10.6 billion in FY09, $12.5 billion in FY10, $13.5 billion in FY11, and nearly $15 billion in FY12. For Fiscal Year 2013, the bill includes a total of $17.4 billion in funding. However, this funding would be delivered in two installments—one appropriation of $14.4 billion in October 2012, and a second six-month appropriation of $3 billion in March 2013. Some Members may be concerned that this funding “cliff”—which presumes a 66% reduction in SCHIP expenses, from $17.4 billion in FY13 to $6 billion in FY14—is a budgetary gimmick designed primarily to mask the true costs of an SCHIP expansion.

The bill shortens from three years to two years the amount of time states have to utilize their allotment funding and provides that unused state allotments would be redirected to states projected to have allotment shortfalls after that period. The bill rebases state allotments every two years to reflect actual state expenditures and provides that state allotments will increase annually to reflect increases in health care expenditures and the growth of child populations within each state. The bill language would permit states to obtain increases in their allotments to reflect planned future expansions of SCHIP coverage and would allow certain states to receive the enhanced SCHIP federal matching rate (if funds are available from the state’s allotment) for Medicaid coverage of children in families with incomes above 133% FPL ($28,196 for a family of four in 2008).

Child Enrollment Contingency Fund: The bill would establish a new contingency fund within the U.S. Treasury for states that exceed their allotments, while also increasing enrollment at a rate that exceeds the states’ child population growth by at least 1%. The money within the contingency fund would be carved out from the SCHIP allotments described above and could not exceed 20% of overall SCHIP funding. Some Members may be concerned that the fund—which does not include provisions making additional payments contingent on enrolling the low-income children­ for which the program was designed—will therefore help to subsidize wealthier children in states which have expanded their programs to higher-income populations, diverting SCHIP funds from the program’s original purpose.

Performance Bonus Payments: The bill creates a new performance bonus payment mechanism to offset state costs associated with enrollment outreach and retention activities. States which increase coverage of eligible low-income children in Medicaid by at least 2% will be eligible for bonuses of up to 15% of each beneficiary’s projected costs, and states which exceed their targets for enrolling eligible children by at least 10% will become eligible for additional bonus payments of up to 62.5%.

Funding for the performance bonus system under the bill totals at least $3.3 billion, which would be increased by any allotments not obligated to the states or any state allotments not expended or redistributed to other states. State eligibility for the performance bonuses would remain contingent on states’ use of several practices designed to increase ease of enrollment, including continuous eligibility for at least 12 months, eliminating or liberalizing asset tests associated with enrollment applications, automatic administrative renewal, presumptive eligibility for children, and participation in the “Express Lane” process outlined below.

As there are no provisions linking payment of performance bonuses to the enrollment of low-income children, some Members may be concerned that these performance bonuses may provide an inducement to instead enroll children from wealthier families, diverting the program from its original intent. Some Members may also be concerned that the provision linking performance bonuses to the adoption of at least four so-called best practices for enrollment—including the “Express Lane” process—will provide a strong financial incentive for states not to scrutinize the eligibility of certain applicants.

Coverage of Pregnant Women: The bill adds new language permitting states to utilize SCHIP funding to cover low-income, pregnant women. The bill imposes several requirements on states seeking to use SCHIP funds to cover pregnant women, including a minimum eligibility threshold of at least 185% FPL (and not below the Medicaid eligibility threshold) for pregnant women only after covering all children under and 200% FPL without a waiting list or other enrollment cap to limit children’s participation in the program. The provision provides that children born to certain low-income pregnant women participating in SCHIP will automatically be enrolled in the program for the child’s first year.

Coverage of Childless Adults: The bill prohibits the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from approving further waivers to cover childless adults under the SCHIP program and phases out SCHIP coverage of childless adults. States requesting an extension will receive a waiver to cover childless adults for two years under SCHIP. The bill also allows states to apply for a Medicaid waiver to continue to cover childless adults but at the lower Medicaid matching rate instead of the enhanced SCHIP rate. Some Members may be concerned that the bill would permit the continued coverage of childless adults within SCHIP for at least two years—and for indefinite periods beyond that using the lower Medicaid match rate—diverting its focus from the targeted low-income children for whom it was created.

Coverage of Low-Income Parents: The bill also prohibits the issuance of new SCHIP waivers permitting the coverage of low-income parents and phases out parent coverage. States may request an automatic two-year extension to cover low-income parents, and may continue coverage of low-income parents through the length of the authorization legislation (i.e. until October 2013), provided the state does not increase its income eligibility thresholds for parent coverage. Some Members may be concerned that the bill would permit the continued coverage of low-income adults within SCHIP for at least five years, diverting its focus from the targeted low-income children for whom it was created.

Coverage of Higher-Income Children: The bill places certain restrictions on states’ matching rate for coverage of children in families with “effective family income” higher than 300% FPL—$63,600 for a family of four in 2008—to the lower Medicaid match rate, rather than the enhanced SCHIP federal match. Specifically, the bill would prohibit states from using a “general exclusion of a block of income that is not determined by type of expense or type of income.” This provision is designed to address an issue related by New Jersey’s SCHIP program, which disregards all income between 200-350% FPL for purposes of eligibility—thus making children in families with incomes up to $74,200 eligible for federal health benefits.

However, the bill expressly retains states’ ability to disregard unlimited amounts of income by type of income (i.e. salary, capital gains) or type of expense (i.e. disregard all housing-related expenses)—thus permitting states to continue to use “income disregards” effectively to ignore some or all of a family’s income for purposes of determining whether the family income falls below the 300% FPL threshold. And the bill grandfathers in states (i.e. New Jersey) that already have programs in place using blanket income disregards.

Some Members may be concerned first that this provision does not prohibit states from expanding their Medicaid programs to families with incomes above $64,000, and second that the provisions allowing continued use of “income disregards” will only encourage states to use such mechanisms to expand their SCHIP programs to wealthier families—rather than covering poor children first.

Crowd-Out Provisions: The bill does not contain provisions to reduce “crowd-out”—that is, individuals leaving private coverage in order to join a government program—included in both versions of SCHIP legislation (H.R. 976, H.R. 3963) in 2007. Those provisions included several studies about the extent to which crowd-out occurs within SCHIP, best practices on how to reduce crowd-out, and authority for the Secretary to reduce payments to states enrolling too many children above 300% FPL. Some Members may be concerned that removal of these provisions will remove the last disincentive for states to enroll large numbers of children in families with incomes above $64,000—and possibly well above that threshold.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would result in 2.4 million individuals dropping private health insurance coverage to enroll in government programs—a higher level of crowd-out in both number and percentage terms than the first SCHIP bill (H.R. 976) presented to President Bush in 2007.

Outreach and Enrollment Provisions: The bill includes $100 million in new mandatory funding for grants to various entities—including states, localities, elementary and secondary schools, and other non-profit or faith-based organizations—to conduct outreach and enrollment activities, including 10% for a national enrollment campaign and an additional 10% set-aside for the Indian Health Service. The bill also provides a minimum 75% Medicaid and SCHIP match for translation or interpretation services under the two programs.

“Express Lane” Enrollment Option: The bill permits states to use eligibility determinations from “Express Lane” agencies as a means to facilitate enrollment in Medicaid and SCHIP, including renewals and re-determinations of coverage. Agencies—including but not limited to those which determine eligibility for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, federal school lunch programs, Head Start, and federal housing assistance—may not deem children ineligible for coverage based solely on an initial adverse determination with respect to income eligibility.

Under the program, states may establish an income threshold 30 percentage points above the Medicaid or SCHIP eligibility limit (i.e. if the SCHIP eligibility limit is 300% FPL, the state may establish a threshold of 330% FPL for purposes of Express Lane determinations). States may also temporarily enroll children in SCHIP if the child in question “appears eligible” (criteria undefined) based on the Express Lane agency’s income determination, subject to a “prompt follow up” (time limit undefined) by the state as to whether or not the child actually qualifies. The bill also allows states to “initiate and determine eligibility” for Medicaid or SCHIP “without a program application from, or on behalf of” children based on data from other sources.

The bill provides for a annual sample audit of Express Lane cases to establish whether or not the eligibility determinations made comport with eligibility determinations made using the full Medicaid review process and provides for state remedial actions (and eventually payment reductions) if the error rate for such audits exceeds 3%. The bill sunsets the Express Lane option at the end of the authorization and includes $5 million for a report on its effectiveness.

Some Members may be concerned first that the streamlined verification processes outlined above will facilitate individuals who would not otherwise qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP, due either to their income or citizenship, to obtain federally-paid health benefits.

Citizenship Verification: Current law applies citizenship verification requirements differently to state SCHIP programs, depending upon the nature of the program. The BBA permitted states to establish separate SCHIP programs, utilize Medicaid expansions to cover eligible populations, or some combination of the two. The eight states and the District of Columbia that chose Medicaid expansions, along with Medicaid beneficiaries of the 24 states that chose combination programs, must comply with citizenship verification provisions enacted as part of the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA, P.L. 109-171) in 2006. These procedures—which include verification of citizenship and nationality by presenting any of a variety of documents (e.g. birth certificate, passport, etc.)—were prompted in part by a July 2005 Inspector General report, which found that 47 states (including the District of Columbia) often relied on an applicant’s self-attestation of citizenship to determine Medicaid eligibility and that 27 of these states undertook no effort to determine whether the self-attestation was accurate. Beneficiaries in the 18 states with separate SCHIP programs are not subject to the DRA verification requirements with respect to either citizenship or nationality.

The bill provides an alternative to the Medicaid citizenship verification process enacted in DRA—and extends this process to beneficiaries in stand-alone SCHIP programs—for children up to age 21 by allowing states to verify applicants’ citizenship through a name and Social Security number match. If the Social Security Administration finds an invalid match, the state must make “a reasonable effort to identify and address the causes of such invalid match;” in the event the state cannot resolve the discrepancy, it must dis-enroll the individual within 120 days, during which time the individual in question has 90 days to respond and present satisfactory evidence to resolve the mis-match.

States will be required to submit data for each applicant to determine the states’ invalid match rates, but errors will only include cases where the individual has been dis-enrolled by the state after having received SCHIP benefits. The bill provides that states with error rates above 3% will be required to pay back funds used to pay for ineligible individuals in excess of the 3% threshold—except that the Secretary may waive such a return requirement “if the state is unable to reach the allowable error rate despite a good faith effort.”

Some Members may echo the concerns of Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, who in a September 2007 letter stated that the verification process proposed in the bill would not keep ineligible individuals from receiving federal benefits—since many applicants would instead submit another person’s name and Social Security number to qualify. Some Members may believe the bill, by laying out a policy of “enroll and chase,” will permit ineligible individuals, including illegal aliens, to obtain federally-paid health coverage for at least four months during the course of the verification process. Finally, some Members may be concerned that the bill, by not taking remedial action against states for enrolling illegal aliens—which can be waived entirely at the Secretary’s discretion—until states’ error rate exceeds 3%, effectively allows states to provide benefits to illegal aliens.

Coverage of Legal Aliens: The bill would permit states to cover legal aliens in Medicaid and SCHIP programs without imposing the five-year waiting period for most legal aliens to receive federal welfare benefits established as part of the welfare reform law (P.L. 104-196) signed by President Clinton in 1996. For decades, Medicare has maintained a five-year residency requirement for legal aliens to obtain access to benefits; this waiting period was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976, when Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for a unanimous Court in the case of Mathews v. Diaz, held that “it is obvious that Congress has no constitutional duty to provide all aliens with the welfare benefits provided to citizens.”

Some Members may be concerned that permitting states to cover legal aliens without imposing waiting periods will override the language of bipartisan welfare reform legislation passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Democrat President, conflict with decades-long practices in other federally-sponsored entitlement health programs (i.e. Medicare), and encourage migrants to travel to the United States for the sole or primary purpose of receiving health benefits paid for by federal taxpayers.

Premium Assistance: The bill permits states to establish premium assistance programs—which provide state and federal funds to finance employer-sponsored health insurance. The bill provides that employers must pay at least 40% of premium costs in order for the policy to qualify for premium assistance but prohibits high-deductible policies associated with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) from qualifying under any circumstances.

The bill changes the current premium assistance criteria within SCHIP, such that rather than requiring the cost of covering the entire family through the employer policy be less than the costs to enroll a child in government-run coverage, states should instead use an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the marginal costs of covering the applicable child (or children) when compared to enrolling the child in SCHIP. The bill also permits states to “wrap-around” coverage to supplement the employer policy if the latter does not meet appropriate SCHIP benchmark standards, and to establish a purchasing pool for small employers (i.e. those with fewer than 250 employees) with low-income workers to provide workers options to utilize premium assistance to enroll their families.

The bill requires states that have created premium assistance programs to inform SCHIP applicants of the program and includes provisions regarding coordination with employer coverage and outreach to workers to inform them of premium assistance. However, the bill does not require states to establish premium assistance programs. Some Members may therefore be concerned that the bill does not ensure that all children with access to employer-sponsored coverage will be able to maintain their current coverage.

Quality Measures: The bill requires CMS to develop an initial set of child health quality measures for state Medicaid and SCHIP programs, including those administered by managed care organizations, and establish programs allowing states to report such measures and disseminate information to the states on best practices. The bill includes further requirements for the Department to create a second pediatric quality measures program “to improve and strengthen the initial core child health care quality measures” and authorizes grants and contracts to develop and disseminate evidence-based quality care measures for children’s health.

The bill requires states to report annually on state-specific health quality measures adopted by their Medicaid and/or SCHIP plans and authorizes up to 10 grants for demonstration projects related to improved children’s health care and the promotion of health information technology. The bill also authorizes (subject to appropriation) $25 million for a demonstration project to reduce childhood obesity by awarding grants to eligible local governments, educational or public health institutions, or community-based organizations.

The bill establishes a program to develop a model electronic health record for Medicaid and SCHIP beneficiaries and authorizes a study on pediatric health quality measures. These and the other quality programs addressed above would be funded through mandatory appropriations totaling $45 million per fiscal year.

Lastly, the bill applies certain quality provisions to the managed care organizations with whom states contract to provide SCHIP benefits—including marketing restrictions, required disclosures to beneficiaries, and access and quality standards both for the managed care organizations and the state agencies overseeing them. The bill also requires a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on whether the rates paid to SCHIP managed care plans are actuarially sound.

Enhanced Benefits: The bill requires state SCHIP plans to have access to dental benefits, and mandates that those dental plans resemble a) coverage provided to children under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), b) “a dental benefits plan that is offered and generally available to state employees,” or c) the largest commercially-available dental plan in the state based on the number of covered lives.

The bill includes language requiring mental health parity in state SCHIP benefits, specifically that “financial requirements and treatment limitations applicable to such…benefits” are no more restrictive than those applied to medical and surgical benefits covered by the plan and establishes a prospective payment system for federally qualified health centers receiving Medicaid reimbursements. The bill also requires that states impose a grace period of at least 30 days on beneficiaries for non-payment of any applicable premiums due before terminating the beneficiaries’ coverage; under current law, such premiums generally only apply to individuals with family incomes above 150% FPL.

Other Provisions: The bill includes language stating that “nothing in this Act allows federal payment for individuals who are not legal residents.” However, as noted above, the bill provisions allow states to verify SCHIP eligibility without document verification and provide no financial penalties to states enrolling illegal aliens until those errors (which in the case of “Express Lane” applications will be derived from sample audits, not scrutiny of each application) exceed 3%—and these penalties may be waived in the Secretary’s sole discretion.

The bill includes language prohibiting the Department of Health and Human Services from approving any new state Health Opportunity Account demonstrations under the program established in DRA. Some Members may be concerned that the prohibition on this innovative—and entirely voluntary—program for beneficiaries may hinder beneficiaries’ ability to choose the health plan that best meets their needs.

The bill would disregard any “significantly disproportionate employer pension or insurance fund contribution” when calculating a state’s per capita income for purposes of establishing the federal Medicaid matching percentage for that state. According to CMS, only one state would benefit from this provision—Michigan. The bill would also increase Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) allotments for Tennessee and Hawaii and would clarify the treatment of a regional medical center in such a manner that the Congressional Budget Office, in its score of the bill, identified the provision as specifically benefiting the Memphis Regional Medical Center. Some Members therefore may view these provisions as constituting authorizing earmarks.

Tobacco Tax Increase; Pay-Fors: The bill would increase by 61 cents—from 39 cents to $1—the federal per-pack tobacco tax and place similar increases on cigars, cigarette papers and tubes, and smokeless and pipe tobacco products. Some Members may be concerned that an increase in the tobacco tax, which is highly regressive, would place an undue and unnecessary burden on working families during an economic downturn and could encourage the production of counterfeit cigarettes by criminal organizations and other entities.

The bill would impose additional restrictions on so-called specialty hospitals by limiting the “whole hospital” exemption against physician self-referral. Specifically, the bill would only extend the exemption to facilities with a Medicare reimbursement arrangement in place as of January 1, 2009, such that any new specialty hospital—including those currently under development or construction—would not be eligible for the self-referral exemption. The bill would also place restrictions on the expansion of current specialty hospitals’ capacity, such that any existing specialty hospital would be unable to expand its facilities, except under limited circumstances. Given the advances which several specialty hospitals have made in increasing quality of care and decreasing patient infection rates, some Members may be concerned that these additional restrictions may impede the development of new innovations within the health care industry.

Lastly, the bill increases the percentage of payment of certain corporate estimated taxes in the last fiscal quarter of 2013 by 1%, and reduces the next applicable estimated tax payment in the first fiscal quarter of 2014 by a similar amount.

Cost: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would increase direct spending by a total of $39.4 billion between Fiscal Year 2009 and Fiscal Year 2014, and $73.3 billion over the FY09-FY19 period. Most of the spending in the first five years of the budget window ($34.3 billion) would be derived from the SCHIP expansion; and Medicaid spending in the latter five years would rise, as the score notes that children enrolled in SCHIP would be shifted to the Medicaid program upon SCHIP’s expiration. However, both the Medicaid and SCHIP scores are contingent upon provisions in the bill cutting SCHIP spending from $17.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2013 to $6 billion in Fiscal Year 2014. To the extent that Members believe this 66% reduction in SCHIP expenses will not take place, they may be concerned that the funding “cliff” is a budgetary gimmick designed to mask the true costs of the bill’s expansion of health care benefits.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the increase in tobacco taxes would generate $38.8 billion through Fiscal Year 2014, and $72 billion from Fiscal Years 2009-2018. The bill also increases revenues by $1.6 billion through Fiscal Year 2018 as a result of individuals dropping private health insurance in order to enroll in the SCHIP program, as employees with group health insurance would have less of their income sheltered from payroll and income taxes.

The JCT score on the tobacco tax notes that the tax provisions would generate $7.2 billion in FY10 (the first full year the tax increase would take effect), but only $6.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2019—a decrease of more than 10%. Some Members may be concerned that expansions of the SCHIP program would rely on a declining source of revenue.

Legislative Bulletin: H.R. 7174, James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act

Order of Business:  Reports indicate the bill is expected to be considered on Sunday, September 28, under floor procedures that have yet to be determined.

Summary:  H.R. 7174 would amend the Public Health Service Act to establish new federal entitlement programs for 9/11 workers related to health monitoring and treatments, and expand eligibility for the 9/11 victim compensation fund.  Specific details of the legislation include the following:

World Trade Center Health Program:  The bill would establish within the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) a new program to provide medical monitoring, screening, and treatment to workers (including federal employees) who responded to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC), and residents of New York City “who were directly impacted and adversely affected by such attacks.”  The program is intended to provide:

  • Medical monitoring for those exposed to airborne toxins or other hazards;
  • Screening for community members;
  • Treatment for “all medically necessary health and mental health care expenses (including necessary prescription drugs;)”
  • Outreach to potentially eligible individuals to inform them of benefits available;
  • Uniform data collection and monitoring; and
  • Research on health conditions arising from the World Trade Center attacks.

Specific details of the program include:

Payments:  H.R. 7174 provides that all health benefits provided under the program will be provided “without any deductibles, co-payments, or other cost-sharing.”  In cases where a worker is eligible for workman’s compensation, or holds other public or private health insurance coverage, the bill provides that the federal government’s WTC program shall serve as a secondary payer for such claims, similar to the Medicare Secondary Payer program for Medicare beneficiaries with end-stage renal disease.  The bill provides for the creation of quality control and anti-fraud elements within the new program, and incorporates existing anti-fraud penalties to the WTC program.

Advisory and Steering Committees:  The bill creates a scientific and technical advisory committee to provide expertise on eligibility criteria and WTC-related health conditions, and two steering committees—one for WTC responders, the other for community members—to co-ordinate the screening and treatment of eligible members.

Outreach:  The bill includes language requiring the Program Administrator—either the NIOSH Director or his designee—to establish a website, create partnerships with local agencies, and take other measures necessary to inform potentially eligible beneficiaries of the existence of the WTC program.

Centers of Excellence:  The bill directs the Administrator to enter into contracts with “Clinical Centers of Excellence” with respect to monitoring, treating, and counseling individuals related to WTC-related health conditions, and separate contracts with “Co-Ordinating Centers of Excellence” with respect to analyzing and reporting on relevant data and medical protocols.  The bill names the Clinical Centers of Excellence:

  • New York City Fire Department;
  • Mount Sinai co-ordinated consortium;
  • Queens College;
  • State University of New York at Stony Brook;
  • University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey;
  • Bellevue Hospital; and
  • Other hospitals identified by the Administrator.

The bill designates the New York Fire Department, the Mount Sinai co-ordinated consortium, and Bellevue Hospital as Co-ordinating Centers of Excellence.

H.R. 7174 would reimburse Clinical Centers of Excellence $600 annually per eligible participant in the treatment program, and an additional $300 annually per eligible participant in the monitoring program—amounts subject to an inflation index reflecting increases in medical costs in future years.  The bill provides that the payments will be made “regardless of the volume or cost of services required.”  The bill permits the Administrator to authorize payment levels for Co-ordinating Centers of Excellence, and requires a review and GAO study on payment levels within five years.

Eligibility for Responders Entitlement:  H.R. 7174 includes several categories of 9/11-related responders eligible for the new federal health care entitlement.  The bill would expand eligibility for the new entitlement to persons who “performed rescue, recovery, demolition, debris cleanup, or other related services in the New York City disaster area” and meet certain criteria with respect to airborne toxins.  H.R. 7174 also specifies categories of currently eligible individuals in line to receive the new health care entitlement, including:

  • New York City Fire Department employees who “participated at least one day in the rescue and recovery effort at any of the former World Trade sites (including Ground Zero, Staten Island landfill, and the New York City Chief Medical Examiner’s office” at any point between September 11, 2001 and July 31, 2002;
  • Surviving immediate family members of New York City firefighters killed on September 11 at the World Trade Center who received mental health treatment related to their loss—but such individuals are only subject to the new entitlement with respect to mental health treatments;
  • Participants in the WTC cleanup efforts in Lower Manhattan, the Staten Island landfill, or the barge loading piers who worked:
    • At least 4 hours between September 11 and September 14, 2001;
    • At least 24 hours between September 11 and September 30, 2001; or
    • At least 80 hours between September 11, 2001, and July 31, 2002;
  • Workers in the New York City Medical Examiner’s office;
  • Workers in the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation tunnel who worked at least 24 hours between February 1, 2002, and July 1, 2002; and
  • Vehicle maintenance workers exposed to debris “while maintaining vehicles contaminated by airborne toxins” related to the WTC attacks during the time periods outlined above.

The bill includes provisions for an application process lasting no more than 60 days, and an appeal to an administrative law judge in cases where applications are initially denied.

The bill limits the number of beneficiaries to a maximum of 15,000 who at any time qualify for the program, but exempts from the numerical cap those beneficiaries receiving treatment for an identified WTC-related condition at the time of the bill’s enactment.

H.R. 7174 also includes language providing that, in the event that the program’s expenditures are less than 90% of Congressional Budget Office projections as of December 1, 2011, and January 1, 2015, the Administrator may increase the number of eligible participants to meet the CBO expenditure estimates.

Conditions Eligible for Treatment:  The bill defines a WTC-related health condition as “an illness or health condition for which exposure to airborne toxins, any other hazard, or any other adverse condition resulting from the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center…is substantially likely to be a significant factor in aggravating, contributing to, or causing the illness or health condition,” or a mental health condition “substantially likely to be a significant factor in aggravating, contributing to, or causing the condition.”  The bill includes a list of aerodigestive (i.e. asthma and other pulmonary conditions), musculoskeletal, and mental health diseases (including post-traumatic stress disorder) that qualify for treatment.

H.R. 7174 also includes an application process to add additional illnesses subject to review by the Administrator and the Advisory Committees, and permits physicians at Clinical Centers of Excellence to receive federal payments for treatments for WTC-related diseases not yet identified as such under the provisions above, subject to a subsequent determination by the Administrator as to whether or not the condition will be added to the eligible list of diseases.

Standards for Treatment:  The bill limits treatments paid for by the federal government to medically necessary standards, including those that are “not primarily for the convenience of the patient or physician…and not more costly than an alternative service or sequence of services at least as likely to produce equivalent therapeutic or diagnostic results.”

The bill provides for review by “a federal employee designated by the WTC Program Administrator” with respect to determinations of WTC-related health conditions, and includes provisions requiring an appeals process before an administrative law judge with respect to the Administrator’s certification of individuals’ claims for treatment, and a separate appeals process before a physician panel with respect to medical necessity determinations.

Payment Levels:  H.R. 7174 provides that payments to physicians and other medical providers shall generally be based upon reimbursement levels under the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA), which governs federal workman’s compensation claims.  The bill also includes language establishing a competitive bidding process among vendors to govern pharmaceutical purchases by eligible beneficiaries, and permits the Administrator to designate reimbursement rates for other services not referenced in the bill language.  The bill requires New York City and its public hospitals to contribute a 10% match in order to be eligible to receive payment for treatment services rendered.

Eligibility for Community Entitlement:  H.R. 7174 creates a separate entitlement for various segments of the community affected by the World Trade Center attacks.  Eligible groups of individuals include:

  • “A person who was present in the New York City disaster area in the dust or dust cloud on September 11, 2001;”
  • Individuals who “worked, resided, or attended school, child care, or adult day care in the New York City disaster area” for at least four days between September 11, 2001 and January 10, 2002—or at least 30 days between September 11, 2001 and July 31, 2002;
  • “Any person who worked as a clean-up worker or performed maintenance work in the New York City disaster area” between September 11, 2001 and January 10, 2002 “and had extensive exposure to WTC dust as a result of such work;”
  • Individuals residing or having a place of employment in the New York City disaster area between September 11, 2001 and May 31, 2003, and deemed eligible to receive grants from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; and
  • Any individuals receiving treatment at the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center as of the date of the bill’s enactment.

The bill includes an application and certification process for community beneficiaries similar to that for responder beneficiaries discussed above.  The bill limits the number of beneficiaries to a maximum of 15,000 who at any time qualify for the program, but exempts from the numerical cap those beneficiaries receiving treatment for an identified WTC-related condition at the time of the bill’s enactment.  As a result, CBO estimates that, between the community entitlement and the responder entitlement discussed above, about 80,000 people would receive these new WTC-related entitlements to obtain benefits for respiratory and mental health treatments, increasing mandatory spending by $4.6 billion over ten years.

Beneficiaries under the community-based entitlement would generally receive the same benefits and treatments as the WTC responders, except that the community-based entitlement does not include musculoskeletal disorders in the list of identified health conditions (although some or all of these could be added under the process described above).

Treatment for Other Individuals:  H.R. 7174 establishes an additional capped entitlement fund to finance care for “WTC community members”—i.e. those living in the New York disaster area at the time of the September 11 attacks, but not meeting the criteria listed above—diagnosed with an identified WTC-related health condition.  The bill caps such entitlement spending at $20 million in Fiscal Year 2009, rising annually according to medical inflation rates.

Care Outside New York:  The bill would require the Administrator to “establish a nationwide network of health care providers” to treat eligible recipients outside the New York City metropolitan area, subject to certain reporting and quality requirements.

Research:  The bill would require the WTC Administrator to establish an epidemiological research program on health conditions arising from the World Trade Center attacks.  The program would cover diagnosis and treatment of WTC-related health conditions among responders and in sample populations from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, “to identify potential for long-term adverse health effects in less exposed populations.”  H.R. 7174 authorizes $15 million annually for such research.  In addition, the bill authorizes $7 million annually for New York City to maintain a WTC Health Registry, as well as $8.5 million for grants to the New York Department of Mental Health and Mental Hygiene for WTC-related mental health treatment.

Changes to September 11 Compensation Fund:  In addition to establishing the new NIOSH program, H.R. 7174 would also make several changes to the September 11 victim compensation fund established in 2001 (Title IV of P.L. 107-42), as listed below.

Extension for Applications:  H.R. 7174 would reopen applications to the September 11 compensation fund in cases where the Special Master for the compensation fund determines that the individual became aware of physical injuries suffered as a result of the September 11 attacks after applications to the compensation fund were closed.  The bill would generally reopen applications for the reasons stated above (and for individuals subject to the expanded eligibility provisions noted below) for two years after the individual became aware of such injuries, provided the individual seeks treatment in a prompt manner and the claim can be verified.  Additional claims applications under this extension would be accepted through December 22, 2031.

Expansion of Eligibility Definitions:  The bill would modify the definition of eligibility for compensation to define the “immediate aftermath” of the September 11 attacks as including time through August 30, 2002.  The bill would also expand eligibility to include workers handling debris from the World Trade Center, including “any area contiguous to a site of [the 9/11] crashes that the Special Master determines was sufficiently close to the site that there was a demonstrable risk of physical harm” and “any area related to, or along, routes of debris removal,” including (but not limited to) the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island.  The Congressional Budget Office notes that the provisions in the bill “would significantly increase the number of individuals who could seek compensation from the fund,” resulting in an estimated 18,000 additional individuals receiving federal compensation benefits averaging $350,000 each—increasing mandatory spending by nearly $6.4 billion over ten years.  According to Justice Department statistics, this figure would represent a nearly seven-fold increase from the 2,852 personal injury claims originally filed during the 2001-03 period. (See “Additional Background” below.)

Applicability to Pending Lawsuits:  H.R. 7174 would require debris workers or other individuals with pending legal claims relating to 9/11-related injuries, and wishing to seek compensation from the victim compensation fund, to withdraw those legal actions within 90 days after updated regulations regarding the fund application extension are promulgated.  The bill would permit individuals whose applications are denied by the Special Master subsequently to reinstitute their legal claims without prejudice within 90 days of the ineligibility determination—a right not granted to fund applications during the original 2001-03 application period.

Limited Liability:  H.R. 7174 limits the liability for construction and related contractors regarding workers’ claims to the sum of the funds available in the WTC Captive Insurance Company, an amount not exceeding $350 million from New York City, and the amount of all available insurance held by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the relevant contractors and sub-contractors.  According to the Republican staff of the Judiciary Committee, this amount would total approximately $2 billion in funds available to pay legal claims.

Tax Increases:  H.R. 7174 includes several tax provisions designed to pay for the entitlement created in the bill, including

Economic Substance Doctrine:  The bill codifies the “economic substance doctrine” used in certain court decisions, which prohibits businesses from making certain free-market business decisions (and from taking the related tax benefits) based solely on tax-lowering motives.  The bill would also impose a 20% penalty on understatements attributable to a transaction lacking economic substance (40% in cases where certain facts are not disclosed).  In other words, under this provision, companies could be assessed tax penalties for engaging in business transactions aimed primarily at lowering their tax bills beginning on the date of this bill’s enactment.

Increased Taxes on Domestic Subsidiaries of Multinational Corporations:  H.R. 7174 denies certain U.S. subsidiaries of multinational companies the benefits of tax treaties in certain circumstances.  When a U.S. subsidiary of a foreign-owned company makes certain tax-deductible payments (like interest, rents, and royalties) to a related party located in another country, the U.S. imposes a tax on those payments.  The default rate is 30%, but this rate can be reduced, sometimes down to 0%, by tax treaties.  The U.S. has 58 tax treaties with 66 different countries.  This bill would deny the U.S. subsidiary the benefits of the negotiated treaty rate when those tax-deductible payments are made by the subsidiary to a related foreign company, if the ultimate parent of the multinational company is based in a country that does not have a tax treaty with the U.S.

Corporate Estimated Tax Timing Gimmick.  This provision would increase the estimated tax payments that certain corporations must remit to the federal government.  Under current law, corporations with assets of at least $1 billion must make equally divided estimated tax payments for each quarter.  This legislation would increase the payment due for the third quarter of calendar-year 2013 by 5 percentage points.  (If each regular quarterly payment is 100% of what is owed, this additional payment would be 105% of what would otherwise be owed.)  The payment due for the fourth quarter of calendar-year 2013 (i.e. the 1st quarter of fiscal-year 2014) would be reduced accordingly so that the corporations pay no net increase in estimated payments in calendar-year 2013.  This provision is merely a revenue timing shift, a gimmick used to comply with the House’s PAYGO rules, yet would have real-world implications, as it forces certain companies to pay more of their tax payments earlier.  Given the time value of money, there’s little doubt that requiring bigger, earlier payments would harm the bottom lines of qualified corporations.

Additional Background on 9/11 Compensation Fund:  As noted above, Title IV of Public Law 107-42 authorized payments by the federal government to individuals injured or killed as a result of the September 11 attacks; eligible individuals (victims injured and families of individuals killed in the attacks) received $7 billion in payments before the fund closed in 2004.  Justice Department statistics note that during its operation, the fund issued award letters to 5,562 families whose relatives were killed in the September 11 attacks, and to 2,682 claimants suffering personal injuries as a result of the attacks.

While the process created under the law, and administered by Special Master Kenneth Feinberg, was praised by many victims’ families, Members of Congress, and outside experts as fair and judicious, proponents of H.R. 7174 assert that first responders who worked at the World Trade Center site have incurred respiratory and other injuries as a result of the toxins inhaled at Ground Zero—but that these conditions only became manifest after the application period provided for in P.L. 107-42 expired.  Title II of H.R. 7174 would therefore seek to reopen the compensation fund to allow these workers, and other individuals, to make claims for compensation.

However, asked by Judiciary Committee Republican staff to comment on a proposed draft of Title II, former Special Master Feinberg responded with an e-mail noting several concerns with the approach taken by the bill sponsors and the majority.  These concerns included:

  • An extension of the eligibility definition of “immediate aftermath” from the first four days following September 11 (as prescribed in regulations creating the compensation fund) to August 30, 2002— which could result in “a huge influx of additional claims” and could cause some individuals to re-apply for compensation;
  • Language that “vastly extends [the fund’s] geographic scope,” potentially leading to “thousands and thousands of additional claimants” and causing additional individuals to re-apply for compensation;
  • An extension of the filing period until 2031—“no latent claims need such an extended date;”
  • Provisions requiring the Special Master to determine when an individual first knew or should have known about their injuries—“how can the Special Master possibly make that determination?” and
  • Language permitting individuals denied eligibility for compensation to return to the tort system and re-file their claims—a right which was specifically denied as a pre-condition for initial applicants of the 9/11 fund, but which some who were denied compensation by the Special Master may now attempt to exercise.

Republican Committee staff notes that, to the extent the 9/11 compensation fund is re-opened at all, Mr. Feinberg recommends that it be done solely to allow first responders with diseases not manifest at the time of the initial application period to receive compensation—language that would be much narrower in scope than the provisions discussed above.  Particularly given that payments made pursuant to the 9/11 compensation fund constitute mandatory spending, conservatives may agree with the former Special Master that any potential changes considered by Congress should be narrow in scope and designed to ensure that first responders receive reasonable compensation in a manner that uses federal taxpayer dollars prudently.

Committee Action:  H.R. 7174 was introduced on July 24, 2008 and referred to the Committees on Energy and Commerce, Judiciary, and the Budget, none of which took official action.

Possible Conservative Concerns:  Several aspects of H.R. 7174 may raise concerns for conservatives, including, but not necessarily limited to, the following:

  • Tax Increase.  In order to pay for the more than $10 billion cost of this new federal entitlement, H.R. 7174 would codify the economic substance doctrine, under which companies could be assessed tax penalties for engaging in legitimate business transactions aimed primarily at lowering their tax bills.  Some conservatives may therefore be concerned that this provision, and other tax hikes in H.R. 7174, would increase taxes on Americans in order to pay for new federal entitlement spending.
  • Creates Multiple New Federal Entitlements.  H.R. 7174 would establish several new federal entitlement programs to provide health benefits to 80,000 people according to the Congressional Budget Office, and re-open the 9/11 compensation fund to an additional 18,000 personal injury claims.  Some conservatives may be concerned that, with Congress contemplating a $700 billion bailout of the financial sector, now is not an appropriate time to be creating new mandatory spending programs.
  • Mandatory Spending Earmarks to New York Hospitals.  The bill establishes “Centers of Excellence” related to treatment of WTC-related conditions, and provides for payment of up to $900 annually per eligible beneficiary to certain named New York City hospitals and institutions as Clinical Centers of Excellence, “regardless of the volume or cost of services required.”  Some conservatives may be concerned first that this language constitutes a legislative earmark for mandatory spending, and second that the hospitals named could receive federal payments under this earmark without performing a single service for WTC victims.
  • No Restrictions on Trial Lawyers.  While H.R. 7174 does cap liability for legal claims arising from the September 11 cleanup at the sum of all available insurance funds, the bill does not include language placing restraints on attorney contingency fees or other legal expenses.  The bill also permits individuals who file personal injury claims with the 9/11 fund under the new criteria, yet have their applications denied, to reinstate their lawsuits without prejudice.  Some conservatives may be concerned that these provisions may lead to additional lawsuits and funds flowing to trial lawyers as opposed to 9/11 victims awarded compensation.
  • Overly Broad Eligibility Standards.  H.R. 7174 includes expansive definitions of eligibility for the entitlements under the bill, including individuals who worked or volunteered in the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office for as little as one day, or who were present along “routes of debris removal.”  Some conservatives may echo the concerns of former Special Master Kenneth Feinberg, who expressed unease at the implications of re-opening the 9/11 compensation fund to create what CBO estimates would be a nearly seven-fold increase in the number of personal injury awards when compared to the original 2001-03 application period.
  • Overly Generous Health Benefits.  H.R. 7174 explicitly states that all health care provided shall not include any form of cost-sharing for beneficiaries, and reimburses providers at rates established by the Federal Employee Compensation Act—which according to Administration sources pays providers at much higher rates than Medicare.  These provisions, coupled with the additional earmarked per capita payments to hospitals discussed above, may cause some conservatives concern that the bill lacks any meaningful cost-containment mechanisms for this new federal entitlement, which could encourage providers and patients alike to spend taxpayer money extravagantly.
  • Process.  This 120-page bill creating a new federal entitlement includes matter under the jurisdiction of at least four congressional committees—none of which has marked up the legislation.  Some conservatives may be concerned that these new federal entitlement programs deserve proper consideration under regular order—not a rushed proceeding as the House prepares to conclude its work for the year.

Administration Position:  A Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on H.R. 7174 was not available at press time; however, reports indicate the White House has numerous concerns with the bill.

Cost to Taxpayers:  According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), H.R. 7174 would increase mandatory spending by just under $11 billion over ten years.  Title I provides a new entitlement to health benefits, and CBO estimates that about 80,000 people would receive this new WTC-related entitlement to obtain benefits for respiratory and mental health treatments.  CBO estimates that this entitlement would increase mandatory spending by $1.8 billion over five years, and $4.6 billion over ten years, net of a 10% payment by the City of New York and other recoupment from beneficiaries’ health insurance, workers compensation benefits, or other forms of third party payment.

Title II of H.R. 7174 would re-open and expand eligibility for the September 11 compensation fund, which paid out $7 billion in claims to victims before closing in 2004.  CBO notes that the provisions in the bill “would significantly increase the number of individuals who could seek compensation from the fund,” resulting in an estimated 18,000 additional individuals receiving federal compensation benefits averaging $350,000 each—13,000 emergency workers and 5,000 area residents.  CBO estimates this provision would cost $5.5 billion over five years, and nearly $6.4 billion over ten.

The bill’s new mandatory spending is paid for by tax increases—including the codification of the economic substance doctrine—as well as a timing shift budgetary gimmick with respect to estimated corporate tax payments, as explained above.

The bill also includes authorizations for discretionary spending, totaling $30.5 million annually “for each fiscal year.”

Does the Bill Expand the Size and Scope of the Federal Government?:  Yes, the bill would create two new health entitlement programs for 9/11 workers and community members, and expand eligibility for—and re-open applications to—the September 11 compensation fund, further increasing mandatory spending.

Does the Bill Contain Any New State-Government, Local-Government, or Private-Sector Mandates?:  No.

Does the Bill Comply with House Rules Regarding Earmarks/Limited Tax Benefits/Limited Tariff Benefits?:  A committee report citing compliance with clause 9 of rule XXI was unavailable.

Constitutional Authority:  A committee report citing Constitutional authority was unavailable.

SCHIP Enrollment

Background:  The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, established under the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) of 1997, is a state-federal partnership originally designed to provide low-income children with health insurance—specifically, those children under age 19 from families with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), or approximately $40,000 for a family of four.  States may implement SCHIP by expanding Medicaid and/or creating a new state SCHIP program.  In addition, states may expand eligibility requirements by submitting state plan amendments and/or Section 1115 waiver requests to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).[1]  SCHIP received nearly $40 billion in funding over ten years as part of BBA, and legislation recently passed by Congress in December (P.L. 110-173) extended the program through March 2009, while providing additional SCHIP funds for states.

One concern of many conservatives regarding the SCHIP program relates to crowd-out—a phenomenon whereby individuals who had previously held private health insurance drop that coverage in order to enroll in a public program.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of H.R. 3963, a five-year SCHIP reauthorization which the President vetoed (and the House failed to override), found that of the 5.8 million children who would obtain Medicaid or SCHIP coverage under the legislation, more than one-third, or 2 million, would do so by dropping private health insurance coverage.

In order to prevent policies that encourage crowd-out, and ensure that SCHIP funds are more effectively allocated to the low-income beneficiaries for whom the program was created, CMS on August 17, 2007 issued guidance to state health officials about the way it would evaluate waiver proposals by states to expand their SCHIP programs.  Among other provisions, the letter stated that CMS would require states seeking to expand coverage to children with family incomes above 250% of FPL must first enroll 95% of eligible children below 200% of FPL, consistent with the original design and intent of the SCHIP program.  Congressional Democrats have introduced both a bill (H.R. 5998) and a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (S. J. Res. 44) designed to repeal the Administration’s guidance.

Enrollment of Wealthier Children:  An analysis performed by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), using data provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), provides some indication of the extent to which states are focusing their efforts on enrolling poor children first before expanding their SCHIP programs up the income ladder.  Comparison of Fiscal Year 2006 and 2007 data reveal that in FY06, an estimated 586,117 children from families with incomes above 200% of the federal poverty level—approximately $41,000 for a family of four—were covered under SCHIP by a total of 15 states.

By contrast, in FY07, a total of 17 states and the District of Columbia covered an estimated 612,439 children in their SCHIP programs—an increase of nearly 30,000 children from wealthier families.  Much of this increase stems in part from decisions by three states—Maryland, Missouri, and Pennsylvania—along with the District of Columbia to extend SCHIP coverage to children with family incomes up to 300% of FPL during calendar year 2007, just prior to the release of the Administration’s SCHIP guidance.  In short, the data show no discernable trend by states to target their energies on enrolling lower-income children first before expanding SCHIP up the income scale—a key concern of many conservatives during the debate on children’s health legislation last year.

Enrollment of Adults in Children’s Program:  The CRS report also analyzes the coverage of adults—pregnant women, parents, and childless adults—in the SCHIP program.  The CRS data do indicate that the total number of adults decreased from FY06 to FY07, and the number of childless adults on the SCHIP rolls halved.  However, the number of states covering adults increased, and several states saw expansion of the number of adults, and childless adults, covered under the program:

  • Eight states—Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Virginia—saw overall adult populations in SCHIP increase;
  • Three states—Idaho, New Mexico, and Oregon—saw increased enrollment in the number of childless adults;
  • Seven states— Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Oregon—saw increased enrollment in the number of parents covered;
  • Three states—Colorado, Nevada, and Rhode Island—increased SCHIP enrollment for pregnant women.

While many conservatives may support the overall reduction in adults enrolled in a children’s health insurance program, some may still be concerned by the persistence of adult coverage—particularly given decisions by both Arkansas and Nevada to expand coverage to adults during FY07.  In addition, the fact that nearly 75% of the reduction in adult SCHIP enrollment from FY06 to FY07 came from one state’s (Arizona) decision to remove childless adults from the program rolls may lead some conservatives to question whether this welcome development was a one-year anomaly or part of a larger trend.

Conclusion:  Most conservatives support enrollment and funding of the SCHIP program for the populations for whom the SCHIP program was created.  That is why in December the House passed, by a 411-3 vote, legislation reauthorizing and extending the SCHIP program through March 2009.  That legislation included an additional $800 million in funding for states to ensure that all currently eligible children will continue to have access to state-based SCHIP coverage.

However, many conservatives retain concerns about actions by states or the federal government that would reduce private health insurance coverage while increasing reliance on a government-funded program.  To that end, data proving that many states have expanded coverage to wealthier populations without first ensuring that low-income children are enrolled in SCHIP, and that states have in recent months expanded coverage under a children’s health insurance program to adult populations, suggest that some states continue to expand government-funded health insurance, at significant cost to state and federal taxpayers, in a manner that may encourage individuals to drop private coverage.

Particularly given these developments, conservatives may believe that the Administration’s guidance to states remains consistent with the goal of ensuring that SCHIP remains targeted toward the low-income populations for which it was designed.  Therefore, many conservatives will support the reasonable attempts by CMS to bolster the integrity of the SCHIP program while retaining state plans’ flexibility, and question efforts by Congressional Democrats to encourage further expansion of government-funded health insurance financed by federal taxpayers.

 

[1] In general, state plan amendments can expand eligibility to higher income brackets, or otherwise modify state plans, while Section 1115 waivers by definition require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to waive statutory requirements under demonstration authority.  For more information, see CRS Report RL 30473, available online at http://www.congress.gov/erp/rl/pdf/RL30473.pdf (accessed September 8, 2008).