AMA, AARP Urge Passage; Chamber Says Vote No

Posted March 19, 2010 at 4:50pm

Trying to build momentum for health care reform legislation, the American Medical Association and the large senior citizens group AARP on Friday threw their support behind the controversial package that is expected to be considered by the House this weekend.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been running millions of dollars’ worth of ads opposing the measure, issued a key-vote alert to all House lawmakers indicating the business group’s strong opposition to the legislation.

The positions by the major medical stakeholders were not surprising and were in line with stands these groups have taken over the past year as the legislation was being developed.

The AMA, which has faced internal dissension over its past backing of health care reform, issued “qualified support” for the final package.

“The pending bill is imperfect, but we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to something as important as the health of Americans,” AMA President J. James Rohack said in a statement. “While the final product is certainly not what we would have devised, we strongly support the parts of this bill that are desperately needed by millions of Americans who are struggling to get or keep health insurance coverage.”

AARP Board Chairwoman Bonnie Cramer said in a statement that the legislation “brings us so much closer to helping millions of older Americans get quality, affordable health care.”

Key to the AARP support was the inclusion of a provision that would close gaps in prescription drug subsidies for Medicare enrollees, known as the doughnut hole.

Lawmakers addressed plugging the doughnut hole in a reconciliation measure that provides fixes to the Senate health care bill that will also be voted on by the House.

The chamber, however, said the reconciliation bill did not do enough to change the Senate bill, which the business group had opposed when it was first passed last year.

The business group, in particular, criticized changes made to the tax on high-cost, or Cadillac, health plans, complaining the tax would now be indexed to inflation rather than faster growing health care costs.

“In the end this new tax will ensnare a growing number of Americans, much like the growing problem of the Alternative Minimum Tax” chamber Vice President R. Bruce Josten said in a message to lawmakers.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association also issued a statement opposing the bill even though the group said it addressed a number of its issues, including treatment of part-time workers.

John Emling, senior vice president of government affairs for the retail association, applauded the exemption of part-time employees from employer mandates regarding insurance coverage. He said the bill also provides employers with a “reasonable 90-day waiting period” before they have to enroll employees in insurance plans.

Nevertheless, Emling said the bill “failed to include the meaningful cost containment measures that RILA sought.”

He said the prescriptive benefit requirements in the bill would undermine retailers’ ability to offer affordable plans.