September 23, 2009

Seven Wyden Amendments Adopted on First Day of Revision of America's Healthy Future Act

Benefits such as Guaranteed Access to Quality Plans, Improved Health Security and Individual State Reform Move Forward

Washington, D.C. - Seven amendments written by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) were accepted today for inclusion in the revised Chairman's Mark of the America's Healthy Future Act of 2009.

· The "Exchange Plans as Good As Members of Congress" amendment ensures that all Americans will be able to have a health insurance policy option available to them through their state exchange that is actuarially equivalent to the plans that their Members of Congress can choose. At least one plan in every exchange must meet the actuarial standard of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Standard Option in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

· The "Seamless Portability - No Need for COBRA" amendment will give Americans real health security by making it easier for those who have lost their jobs to qualify for Health Care Affordability Tax Credits. Instead of having the burden of using their previous year's tax return to prove they qualify for these credits, they will be able to use their enrollment for unemployment benefits as evidence of their eligibility.

· The "Empowering States to be Innovative" amendment will free states to come up with their own methods of covering their residents if they can develop a health insurance plan that provides coverage as comprehensive as required by the final law. Similar to a provision in Senator Wyden's Healthy Americans Act, the amendment allows states to apply for a waiver through a process that mirrors that set up for Medicaid and CHIP. Once the waiver is applied for, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) must respond within a 180-day window. Congressman Dennis Kucinich added a similar amendment to the House's America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 bill.

· The "Amendment to Limit Insurance Rating Based on Age in the Individual and Group Markets" will protect late-middle aged Americans from being charged up to five times as much for their coverage as younger people. Age-rating is a policy that would make health coverage unaffordable for older individuals. While Wyden's original amendment would have limited age-rating to a 2:1 ratio, the revised amendment accepted into the bill lowers the ratio to 4:1. Wyden plans to continue pushing for his original 2:1 ratio goal.

· The "Helping States with Extraordinarily Long Waiting Lists for Medicaid" amendment will make it easier for states that have long waiting times for residents to receive care through Medicaid by changing the legal definition of those on the waiting list to "newly eligible." This will help states like Oregon that have greater numbers of those in need to qualify for additional Federal funds and Medicaid.

· The "Ensuring People in Hospice Do Not Have to Give Up the Prospect of a Cure" amendment will give those fighting life-threatening illnesses a better chance to survive. It will change the current discriminatory law that takes Medicare services and treatments away from anyone who enrolls in hospice care. The amendment creates a Medicare Hospice Concurrent Care (HCC) three-year demonstration program that would allow hospice patients to also receive Medicare coverage while in hospice. It would also direct the Secretary of HHS to establish 26 sites across the country - in both rural and urban areas - to examine the effectiveness of this delivery model and its ability to improve patient care, quality of life and cost-effectiveness.

· The "Authorizing the Use of New Technologies that Empower Patients and Their Providers to Get More Value in Accountable Care Organizations" amendment will move America's health care system into the 21st century by allowing Accountable Care Organizations to use the latest in technology to connect patients and their medical care providers. Innovations such as remote patient monitoring, which reduces the need for face-to-face office visits and allows physicians to use remote sensors to keep track of patients' vital statistics, have been proven to improve outcomes for patients with chronic diseases and cut health care costs.