Morning Action: Senate Works on Doc Fix, Unemployment Benefits
DOC FIX. Today the Senate will continue to work on the so-called doc-fix, which would extend Medicare payments to physicians (sub. req’d):
The Senate is expected to bat cleanup today on a major item left unfinished last week — a yearlong patch (HR 4302) to prevent cuts to Medicare payment rates, otherwise known as the “doc fix.” Members of both bodies had hoped to clear a long-term proposal (HR 4015), but lawmakers never agreed on a way to pay for it. The current patch expires tonight, so time is of the essence. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill soon after convening this afternoon. We’ll watch to see if things go as planned.
UI. The Senate will likely begin debating an extension of emergency unemployment insurance benefits later today. An extension is likely to pass in the Senate but would face more opposition in the House where lawmakers feel it would be too difficult to implement retroactive payments (sub. req’d):
Later today, senators will likely formally begin debating a five-month extension to unemployment insurance, after a successful procedural vote late last week. Democrats are using a House-passed bill (HR 3979) as a vehicle for the extension to the benefits, which kick in after a person exhausts standard unemployment assistance.
Under the proposal, the five-month extension would be paid for by a combination of offsets including temporarily reducing companies’ pension payments — also known as pension smoothing — and extending U.S. Customs and Border Protection user fees through 2024.
The bill would provide retroactive payments to those whose benefits were cut off. It also would include language to deny jobless aid to individuals with adjusted gross incomes of $1 million or more.
Read our key vote against an extension of unemployment insurance benefits here. We explain how such legislation could harm both workers and taxpayers.
EITC. Senators on both sides of the aisle are weighing in on an Earned Income Tax Credit provision in a new tax plan offered by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) 7% (sub. req’d):
Building on the White House budget proposal’s expansion of the EITC, Murray’s plan would allow millions of workers currently unable to claim the credit to get a refund by dropping the maximum eligibility age for childless workers from 25 to 21. The maximum credit for childless workers would increase from about $500 to about $1,400 in 2015.
An anchor of federal anti-poverty programs that has grown dramatically since its inception in 1975, the EITC is drawing renewed interest on both sides of the aisle: Republicans see the program as a more efficient alternative to raising the minimum wage, and Democrats have made expanding it a cornerstone of their efforts to fight income inequality.
PATENT TROLL. Lawmakers are weighing in on patent troll bill in the Senate (sub. req’d):
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee eventually will support “patent troll” legislation that includes tough provisions along the lines of what the House passed last year, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) 34% predicted.
“It’s going to be hard for them,” Hatch said of Democrats. “A lot of these patent troll, phony corporations are formed by the trial bar that largely supports them. But most Democrats know that [trolls] are a minority in the trial bar, and that something has to be done. They also have the pressure of all the Silicon Valleys in this country that are sick and tired of this crap.”
Hatch’s remarks came after the Judiciary Committee on Thursday postponed a markup of the leading Senate bill to address abusive patent litigation, a bipartisan measure (S 1720) sponsored by Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) 7%, and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) 100% Among other steps, the bill would require lawsuit filers to provide courts with more information about their patents to help ensure their infringement claims are valid; call on the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on false “demand letters” that patent trolls send to accuse others of infringement; and ask courts to protect consumers who are sometimes accused of patent infringement for simply using commonly available products or services.
OBAMACARE. So, today is kind of the Obamacare sign up deadline, but the Heritage Foundation explains what that really means:
If you don’t have Obamacare-compliant health insurance by today, you could pay the penalty for this year—depending on the amount of flexibility the administration decides to offer in its latest delay—or you could still purchase a policy anytime in the individual market outside the Obamacare exchanges. The amount of time you go without coverage determines your penalty—or as the IRS calls it, your “shared responsibility payment.”’
Under Obamacare, the new pre-existing conditions rule means that you can wait until you develop a health problem to get your policy. This isn’t great for the system, because healthy people’s premiums are needed to pay for the sick people. So if fewer healthy people buy health insurance, the system has a problem.
A major problem remains: Obamacare means less choice for patients:
Whether it’s your state or the federal government running your nearest Obamacare exchange, the goal remains the same. Heritage experts Robert Moffit and Ed Haislmaier described the transition from the old individual market to “private coverage in name only”:
The primary goal of the Obamacare exchanges is to establish federal control over state health insurance markets by enforcing new federal insurance rules and requiring federal standardization of health benefits.
And policies in the remaining individual market must, by law, look exactly the same. You can buy them anytime, but the benefit design isn’t likely to be much different.