- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hill Republicans are expected to submit their first health care reform proposals Wednesday with a plan for state health insurance market exchanges that provide insurance options to everyone and a tax credit to help cover the costs.

Consumers will be able to use the state exchanges to select a health insurance plan ranging from traditional options to HMOs to health savings accounts. Existing health insurance providers will be able to offer plans through the state-regulated exchange.

Families would get a tax credit of $5,710 - individuals $2,290 - to help pay for health insurance coverage.

The proposal - called the Patients’ Choice Act of 2009 - is expected to be introduced by Republicans Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Richard M. Burr of North Carolina; and Reps. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Devin Nunes of California.

“Our health care system should be easier to use, more predictable and provide integrated care in a more equitable manner in a consistent and fair health insurance market everyone can afford coverage,” according to a summary of the bill.

Consumers would be able to keep their current coverage, and there would be no requirement to carry coverage, according to aides of the bill sponsors.

Consumer protections would be put in place to make insurers offer coverage regardless of age or health, and a review board would penalize insurers that cherry-pick healthy patients, aides say.

The states would provide direct oversight of the health insurers and providers would have to meet the plan standards provided to members of Congress.

Employer contributions would be tax-free, and employees would buy their coverage with pretax dollars. They could also keep the same plan if they change jobs.

The bill also would provide funding for prevention measures, including $50 million for increased vaccine availability, promotion of healthy habits and rewards for states that reduce the rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

Republicans have taken heat for criticizing Democratic proposals for a government-run plan without submitting their own ideas.

Some details of the House Democrats’ plan were revealed last week, as the Associated Press reported an outline of an Energy and Commerce Committee proposal that would require employers to cover employees or pay a fine.

On the Senate side, the Finance Committee said it plans to have legislation ready for debate in June. As of last week, the Democratic chairman and ranking Republican said they weren’t close to writing a bill.

Meanwhile, House Democrats and House Republicans met with respective advisers Tuesday to talk about the best ways to “message” their reform plans.

White House senior adviser David Axelrod’s message to House Democrats - his second meeting with them in as many weeks - was to “get the policy right,” said Rep. John B. Larson, Connecticut Democrat.

The Republican Health Care Caucus met with Rich Galen, who was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s communications director in 1993.

He spoke about the differences in the 1993 and current reform plans, focusing on stopping a public plan, a House aide said.

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