A day before voting on the motion to proceed in the Senate, Ron Wyden has reached agreement with the leadership to get an amendment into the bill which would allow as many as 1 million additional individuals who get health care from their employers to participate on the insurance exchanges, including selecting the public option.
Wyden, who has been insistent on opening the exchanges to provide more choice for all Americans, had been holding out on supporting the bill without it moving in that direction. This agreement presumably secures some of that support. Here’s his statement:
“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.”
The amendment would allow Americans with employer-based coverage at a certain affordability level, where their premiums are between 8 and 9.8 percent of total income, 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,” says the release. A CBO score on this amendment said that over one million people would subsequently be covered by health insurance.
What’s more, this offers a step toward having individuals whose employers offer health insurance move over to the exchange, where they can choose from a variety of different plans, including the public option. It can lead to significant changes in the current health system by expanding the risk pool in the exchanges, strengthening them, and setting a precedent for moving away from the employer-based system.
At the end of the release, the trio of Wyden, Baucus and Reid promise the potential for more changes:
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.
UPDATE: I completely forgot that Mary Landrieu signed a letter asking for a variant of Wyden’s Free Choice Amendment to be put into the bill. So this is probably a goodie for her as well.