November 20, 2009

Reid, Baucus and Wyden Reach Agreement to Improve Choice and Affordability in Health Reform

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) agreed today to amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to include a version of Wyden’s “Free Choice” legislation.
“As I have long said, empowering Americans to choose the health insurance that works best for them and their family is the single best way to hold health insurance companies accountable,” said Wyden.  “While this is just one step in the direction of guaranteeing choices for all Americans, it is a major step because – for the first time – it introduces the concept of individual choice to a marketplace where it has long been foreign.  This is a significant step toward real reform.”
“Senator Wyden has worked tirelessly to reform our health system, and I am pleased to have his support for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Senator Reid said.  “I will support the inclusion of his proposal for workers whose employer coverage is unaffordable but are not able to access the exchange.”
"American families, small business owners and workers are counting on Congress to act on health care reform that will deliver quality, affordable coverage, and we are closer than ever to achieving this goal,” said Baucus. “Senator Wyden has been a champion of health care reform in the Senate for years and I applaud that effort. In the Finance Committee, we worked hard to ensure choice and affordability for consumers and I am pleased to support this policy to further strengthen the bill in those areas."
Under the Senate legislation as it is currently written, Americans with employer-provided coverage, whose income is below 400 percent of the federal poverty level and whose premiums are between 8 and 9.8 percent of their total income will be exempt from having to purchase health coverage but will not be able to access the exchange to qualify for government assistance to purchase insurance.  The agreed to amendment will make it possible for these individuals to convert their tax-free employer health subsidies into vouchers that they can use to choose a health insurance plan in the new health insurance exchanges.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates a previous version of this provision will expand coverage to more than a million Americans.
The Senators agreed to work together as the bill advances to find additional opportunities to guarantee that more Americans will be empowered to choose the health insurance that works best for them.