W&M Approves Three Bills to Modify Health Bill’s Tax Credits

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By Colleen Murphy

The House Ways and Means Committee approved three bills clarifying the use of tax credits to purchase health insurance under the House-passed health care bill.

The bills were approved along party lines May 24 after committee Democrats used the markup to air grievances with the broader underlying measure, the American Health Care Act.

After House Republicans passed their health care overhaul bill out of the chamber May 4, they vowed to offer additional measures to make tweaks to it. Under the VETERAN Act ( H.R. 2372), introduced May 4 by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), a veteran wouldn’t be considered eligible for health coverage under a Department of Veterans Affairs program unless enrolled, responding to fears from Democrats that veterans may be barred from using tax credits to pay for health insurance if they are eligible but not enrolled in VA coverage. The bill was approved on a 22-14 vote.

A second bill ( H.R. 2579), introduced May 19 by Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), would allow some individuals to qualify for premium tax credits if they chose to continue group health plans under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). The bill was approved 22-15. A third bill ( H.R. 2581), introduced May 22 by Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), was approved 22-16. That bill would require a Social Security number before an individual can receive a health care tax credit.

Democratic Opposition

The votes came after an hours-long markup that was slowed considerably by a string of amendments from Democrats—all of which either didn’t pass or were declared to be off-topic. Included among those was an amendment from Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) to continue the Affordable Care Act’s 0.9 percent Medicare tax on high-income earners. The tax would be repealed in 2023 under the House bill.

“I’m reminded that you can’t cure darkness with darkness,” said Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) “You can’t mend a bad bill with provisions to make it a good bill.”

Republicans slammed Democrats in response, and Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) accused them of lying about how the bill would impact individuals with preexisting conditions. One of the main complaints Democrats have about the House bill is that states can opt out of requiring that certain benefits be included in all health plans. But that scenario would only impact a small percentage of the population—individuals with preexisting conditions who haven’t maintained continuous coverage, plan to purchase coverage on the individual market, and live in a state with an approved waiver—Republicans said in response.

“How can the Left be so stunningly cruel to make up stories?” Schweikert said.

The markup, in which multiple members raised their voices, is emblematic of the deep divide in Congress over the health care bill. House Republicans eked out a win in May when they passed the bill with 217 votes. Republicans in the Senate are now rewriting it with some members working on adjusting the bill’s system of refundable, age-adjusted credits that some say are too small for low-income and older individuals. Still, Republicans say the markup represents their efforts to make good on a promise to offer additional legislation to improve the health bill.

In general, Democrats are continuing to push back on Republican health care ideas. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) told reporters earlier in the day that his bill (H.R. 676) to expand Medicare coverage to all U.S. residents now has 111 co-sponsors. There are 193 Democrats in the House.

This is the first time a single-payer health care system has garnered the support of the majority of House Democrats, Conyers said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Colleen Murphy in Washington at cmurphy@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Meg Shreve at mshreve@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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