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Will the Wyden/Brown state waiver enable single payer?

Senators push bipartisan state healthcare waiver

Reuters
November 18, 2010

A Democrat and a Republican teamed up in the Senate on Thursday to offer legislation that would give states the flexibility to implement their own healthcare approaches when the federal overhaul goes into full effect in 2014.

The proposal by Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Scott Brown moves up the date when states can apply for waivers from the federal law in order to implement their own approaches.

The law, which passed in March, currently allows states to apply for waivers in 2017.

Under the Wyden and Brown proposal, states could apply for an exemption from some requirements of the reform law -- including the mandate that everyone purchase insurance and the employer penalty for not providing coverage -- if they offer an alternative that is considered at least as effective and affordable.

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6AH4NT20101118

And...

S. 3958 (the entire bill)

To allow an earlier start for State health care coverage innovation waivers under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
NOVEMBER 17, 2010

Mr. WYDEN (for himself and Mr. BROWN of Massachusetts) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance

A BILL
To allow an earlier start for State health care coverage innovation waivers under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the "Empowering States to Innovate Act".

SEC. 2. EARLIER START FOR STATE HEALTH CARE COVERAGE INNOVATION WAIVERS.
Section 1332(a) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is amended—

  (1) by striking ‘‘January 1, 2017’’ in paragraph (1) and inserting ‘‘January 1, 2014’’, and
  (2) by inserting ‘‘beginning not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of the Empowering States to Innovate Act’’ after ‘‘application’’ in paragraph (4)(B)(ii).

http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_bills&docid=f:s3958is.txt.pdf

And...

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (excerpts):

PART IV--State Flexibility to Establish Alternative Programs

Sec. 1332. Waiver for State innovation.

  (a) Application.
    (3) Pass through of funding.--With respect to a State waiver under paragraph (1), under which, due to the structure of the State plan, individuals and small employers in the State would not qualify for the premium tax credits, cost-sharing reductions, or small business credits under sections 36B of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 or under part I of subtitle E for which they would otherwise be eligible, the Secretary shall provide for an alternative means by which the aggregate amount of such credits or reductions that would have been paid on behalf of participants in the Exchanges established under this title had the State not received such waiver, shall be paid to the State for purposes of implementing the State plan under the waiver.

  (b) Granting of Waivers.
    (1) In general.--The Secretary may grant a request for a waiver under subsection (a)(1) only if the Secretary determines that the State plan--
      (A) will provide coverage that is at least as comprehensive as the coverage defined in section 1302(b) and offered through Exchanges established under this title as certified by Office of the Actuary of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services based on sufficient data from the State and from comparable States about their experience with programs created by this Act and the provisions of this Act that would be waived;
      (B) will provide coverage and cost sharing protections against excessive out-of-pocket spending that are at least as affordable as the provisions of this title would provide;
      (C) will provide coverage to at least a comparable number of its residents as the provisions of this title would provide; and
      (D) will not increase the Federal deficit.

http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_public_laws&docid=f:publ148.111

And...

Sen. Bernie Sanders: 'Vermont stands a chance to be the first state in the nation to pass single-payer'

By Ezra Klein
The Washington Post
November 18, 2010

Ezra Klein:  So what happens if Scott Brown and Ron Wyden get their way and the waiver moves up to 2014? Will Vermont use it?

Bernie Sanders:  We believe Vermont stands a chance to be the first state in the nation to pass single-payer. The governor-elect campaigned on it, and we have support in the House and Senate. We’re not asking for one nickel more than we’d otherwise get. The other thing we think we have an opportunity to do is reach out to our conservative friends and say, hey, Vermont wants to go forward with a single-payer system, and Mississippi and Alabama don’t, but maybe they have other ideas. Now, we’re conscious of the need to make sure that the health-care reform bill’s standards aren’t diminished. So everyone needs to provide the same quality of health care as the bill provides and at the same, or lower, price. But if they can do that, then they should be able to go for it.

Ezra Klein:  And then the various models can compete with one another and, presumably, spread to other states if successful?

Bernie Sanders:  Absolutely. And that’s what we wanted from it. In my state, it’ll be single-payer. In California, I think there’s a chance it could be single-payer. In other states, it will be something else. This makes the states laboratories for the system, and then other states can copy them. Now, you need a minimum level for coverage and quality. You can’t go lower than health-care reform.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/11/sen_bernie_sanders_vermont_sta.html

Comment: 

By Don McCanne, MD

The initial reaction to S. 3958, The Empowering States to Innovate Act, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), is that the bill will enable states to bypass the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and set up their own state-based programs, even single payer should the states prefer. But what does the bill actually say?

PPACA already authorizes a program for state waivers, but not until 2017. The Wyden/Brown bill does only one thing. It moves the state waiver program forward to 2014, the same year that the individual mandate and insurance exchanges go into effect. It does not change the waiver in any other way.

For those states that wish to establish their own programs, advancing the eligibility date removes the very burdensome task of complying with the insurance exchanges, mandates and other requirements for an interval of only three years, and then facing the additional costs and burdens of transitioning to their own programs. If you agree with the policy that states should be able to set up their own programs, then this is a very wise move.

Massachusetts already has a program similar to PPACA. Sen. Brown would much rather modify what they have by complying with the waiver than to have to comply with all details of PPACA for the first three years. For Sen. Wyden, his preferred model of reform was rejected by Congress, but he would still like to experiment with his model, as much as possible, within the state of Oregon, while protecting what innovative programs they already have.

So just how much leeway does the PPACA state waiver allow? It does allow innovations as long as coverage is at least as comprehensive, cost sharing is at least as affordable, at least as many residents would be covered, and as long as the federal deficit would not be increased. It also passes through to the state the funds that would have been used for premium tax credits, cost-sharing reductions, and small business credits. Is that enough funding to establish a single payer system?

What about the funds for Medicare? Medicaid? CHIP? Taft-Hartley plans? What about ERISA requirements? What about the multitude of other funding requirements such as the VA system, academic institutions, safety-net institutions, community health centers, the Indian Health Service, the U.S. Public Health Service, and the many others?

There is no authorization in the Wyden/Brown bill, PPACA, nor any other existing law or regulation to fold many or all of these programs into one single payer system. Think of trying to run a partial single payer system (an oxymoron) while still having to deal with the massive Medicare and Medicaid programs. The point is, don't let up on your advocacy, thinking that Wyden/Brown is our entry to single payer. We would still have a highly fragmented financing system.

Our best option remains enacting a national single payer bill such as HR 676, which will be re-introduced in the next session of Congress. In lieu of that, we should continue with our efforts to enact single payer systems on the state level. Just don't be fooled into thinking that a bill such as Wyden/Brown is the ticket. The enabling federal legislation that would be required for state programs would be as complicated, if not more so, than a bill establishing a national single payer program - an improved Medicare for everyone.

Vermont is a test. Without enabling comprehensive federal legislation, I'm already apprehensive.