By Dennis McGrann, POAM Lobbyist, Washington, D.C.
On March 26, the U.S. Congress left town after passing historic health care legislation, and will return after a two-week recess to a hefty “to do” list. For the past several months, Congress has been intensely focused on health care to the exclusion of almost all other issues — except legislation to create jobs. Both the House and Senate will now be able to focus on other areas. Upon their return, Congressional Leadership will start drafting their annual budget resolution, which usually is considered before the spring recess but was pushed back because of health care. Assembling a budget that can gain a majority will be extremely difficult, with heightened public concern over government spending and growing budget deficits. If Congressional Leaders can’t reach agreement on a budget, they’ll likely end up separately adopting a top-line discretionary spending level for the year so the annual appropriations process can proceed.
After the Easter recess, legislation to help create more jobs will once again become a top priority, as Leadership pushes for enactment of more elements of their “jobs agenda” in the hope that job growth in the nation resumes well before the elections. Two job creation bills are currently pending— a $16.8 billion package of tax incentives for small businesses and state and local governments introduced by Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI-12) that passed the House March 24th (HR 4849) and the Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs Act of 2010 (HR 4899) introduced by Congressman David Obey (D-WI) also passed in the House on March 24th.
Health Care Reform:
The new health care overhaul law (PL 111-148) as modified by the reconciliation bill (HR 4872) cleared on March 25th and will be bringing sweeping changes to the U.S. health care system. Below are some major changes that are to come:
EXPANSION OF COVERAGE: Extends health insurance coverage by 2019 to about 32 million people who currently lack it, leading to coverage of about 94 percent of Americans. Assists states in creating exchanges, or marketplaces, where uninsured individuals can buy health care coverage. Federal subsidies will be available for individuals who earn from 133 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level (currently up to $88,200 for a family of four). Expands Medicaid eligibility to all individuals with incomes of up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, including parents and childless adults. The federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of coverage to newly eligible people from 2014 through 2016, declining to 90 percent by 2020 and afterward. Provides a one-time, $250 rebate in 2010 for Medicare Part D prescription drug beneficiaries who fall into the coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole.” The gap would be phased out over 10 years. Starting in 2011, those in the doughnut hole will get a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs, increasing to 75 percent by 2020, with the government paying the rest.
REGULATORY CHANGES: Imposes new regulations on health insurance companies. Beginning six months after enactment, uninsured dependent children under age 26 can be covered under parents’ plan. Beginning in 2010, insurance companies cannot set lifetime limits on the dollar value of health care coverage. Starting in 2014, they cannot deny coverage for preexisting conditions. Requires most individuals to obtain health insurance, with hardship exemptions. A flat penalty tax of $695 per individual, per year, will be phased in by 2016, with a maximum of 2.5 percent of household income. Penalizes employers with more than 50 workers that have employees who get subsidized coverage through the exchanges. Companies that offer health plans will pay the lesser of $3,000 for each employee (fulltime or part-time) getting a subsidy or $750 per full-time employee beyond the first 30 workers. Employers that do not offer coverage will pay $2,000 per subsidized employee.
REVENUE PROVISIONS: Imposes an excise tax on high-cost health care plans, beginning in 2018. The tax will apply to plans costing $10,200 or more for individual coverage and $27,500 or more for family coverage— $11,850 and $30,950 for retirees and employees in high risk professions (e.g., law enforcement officers, emergency medical first responders, or longshoremen). Increases the Medicare payroll tax for individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000, and imposes an additional 3.8 percent surtax on investment income. Creates a 2.3 percent tax on the sale of taxable medical devices, excluding devices that are normally purchased in retail settings, beginning in 2013. The tax will not apply to eyeglasses, contact lenses or hearing aids. Imposes new fees on health insurers. In 2014, a flat fee of $8 billion will be levied on the industry, rising to $11.3 billion in 2015 and 2016, $13.9 billion in 2017, and $14.3 billion in 2018. In 2019, the fees would be adjusted by the same rate as the growth in health insurance premiums. Levies annual industry-wide fees on brand-name drugs of $2.5 billion in 2011, $2.8 billion in 2012 and 2013, $3 billion in 2014 through 2016, $4.1 billion in 2017, $4.2 billion in 2018, and $2.8 billion in 2019 and beyond. Reduces Medicare payments to hospitals that serve a disproportionate share of low-income individuals, by a total of $3 billion in fiscal 2014 through fiscal 2019.
On March 17th, the Senate passed the final jobs bill and the President signed it the next day (PL 111-147). The $17.6 billion measure, Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment-HIRE (HR 2847) , was cleared by a vote of 68-29. The bill had moved back and forth between the House and Senate in recent months as lawmakers cut the dollar amount and added provisions to offset its costs. The final version includes a payroll tax break for businesses that hire unemployed people along with a $1,000 tax credit if they keep those workers on the job for at least a year.
The House has since passed its tax incentives bill (HR 4849), the second element of the jobs agenda to be passed by the chamber this month. The centerpiece of the bill is an estimated $13.2 billion for bond programs used largely by state and local governments for infrastructure development. Among the bond provisions is an extension of the Build America Bonds program through June 2013, which provides financial support to state and local governments through federal tax exemptions for interest on municipal bonds. The bill passed on a 246 to 178 vote. The House also passed the Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs Act of 2010 (HR 4899) making emergency supplemental appropriations for disaster relief and summer jobs for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010.
An additional bill, which is still pending, the “Local Jobs for America Act” (LJAA) (HR 4812) was authored by U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) on March 10th. Provides funds to States, units of general local government, and community-based organizations to save and create local jobs through the retention, restoration, or expansion of services needed by local communities.
The bill includes $24 billion, (similar to the bill the House approved in December) to help states support 250,000 education jobs, put 5,500 law enforcement officers on the beat, and retain, rehire, and hire firefighters. Specifically, $1.18 billion to put 5,500 law enforcement officers on the beat. The following Michigan Members have signed onto the bill as co-sponsors to-date: Congressman John Conyers (D-MI-14), Congressman John Dingell (D-MI-15), Congressman Dale Kildee (D-MI-05), Congresswoman Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI-13) and Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI-12).
Save the Date:
Save the date for this year’s annual National Police Week, which is rapidly approaching. National Police Week will be held May 9-15, 2010 (events in Washington, D.C. will be held May 13-16th), and will be featuring many important events, including the Michigan Police Night Reception to be held on Thursday, May 13th in the Rayburn House Office building, room B354 from 5-7pm.
As always, the Washington, DC office of POAM will be closely following legislation pertinent to the police and peace officers of Michigan. If you have any questions or need additional information regarding legislation or the Michigan Police night Reception, please do not hesitate to contact us at (202) 544-9840.