The Hill reports that the deal strikes Senator Ron Wyden’s (D-Oregon) provision allowing some workers to forgo their employer’s health care coverage and opt instead for a contribution to buy insurance on their own in state health insurance exchanges.
The Free Choice Vouchers allow workers who make less than 400% of the Federal Poverty Level to get a voucher if their employer-sponsored coverage would cost them between 8% and 9.8% of their income. The news report said they would have cost the government $4 billion over a decade, starting in 2014 when the exchanges go live, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
According to The Hill, some employers opposed the provision out of concern that it could lead young, healthy workers to opt out of the employer plan, driving up costs for everybody else.
The news report said Wyden responded angrily in the Huffington Post: “In my mind, that is a short-sighted position. The employer sponsored health insurance system is currently unsustainable. Premiums are going to keep going higher and higher burdening both employers and employees. Free Choice Vouchers offered a safety-net and a bridge to another system.”The budget deal also cuts $2.2 billion in 2011 funding for health care co-ops, but leaves $4.4 billion in 2012 funding intact. The Hill explains that Senator Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) had proposed the co-ops as an alternative to a public option when it became clear during the health care reform debate that the Senate did not have the votes to create a Medicare-like government plan open to people younger than 65. Conrad’s office did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment.