61 Most Important Words In The HELP Health Care Bill

The goal of many reformers is for the majority of Americans to get health insurance from something similar to the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program. It is an exchange where federal employees choose between several good insurance plans which meet a strict set of minimum criteria.

While this may be a good idea, it is politically impossible because it would cause the CBO to conclude that "millions of Americans would lose their current health insurance". (Even though the vast majority would get a better insurance plan of their own choosing, that is one of the many finer points that will be lost in the political attacks against reform.)

As a result, the HELP committee wanted to write a bill that would allow most Americans to get their health insurance via an exchange without the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) saying as such. They wrote the bill so that only individuals without insurance and employees of "qualified employers" can buy health insurance in the exchange. In the bill the "default" definition of a "qualified employer" is a business with 10 employees or fewer.

Using this default definition, the CBO determined that ten years from now only 27 million Americans will get their insurance through the exchange. But there is an very important clause dealing with the definition of a “qualified employer”: It gives states and the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to change how few employees a “qualified employer” must have.

According to the HELP Bill, “the term 'qualified employer' means an employer that … meets criteria (including criteria regarding the size of a qualified employer) established by such State; or” by the Secretary of HHS defined as

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES.— (i) ESTABLISHMENT.—The Secretary may by regulation establish the number of employees described in subparagraph (A)(ii)(II)(aa).
(ii) DEFAULT.—If the Secretary does not establish the number described in subparagraph (A)(ii)(II)(aa), such numbers shall be deemed to be 10.

I have no doubt that once the exchanges are up and running successfully that number will dramatically be scaled upward by individual states and/or the Secretary of HHS. While the CBO claims only 27 million Americans will get health insurance through the exchange 10 years from now, if things go as planned that number will probably be closer to 127 million. This is a fairly brilliant piece of CBO slight of hand.

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