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EconomicPolicyInstitute December 17, 2009

As the Senate continued to work to finalize a health care reform bill, EPI produced more research showing which reform proposals from both the House and the Senate would be most effective in helping average working Americans afford health care.

Elise Gould, EPI’s director of health policy research, and economist Josh Bivens published an Issue Brief, House Health Care Bill is Right on the Money, outlining why the reform bill passed by the House of Representatives has a fairer and more effective way of paying for reform than the bill pending in the Senate. The House bill would impose a 5.4% surtax on very high incomes ($1 million for joint filers and $500,000 for single filers) while the Senate proposes a 40% excise tax on high-cost health insurance plans.

Not only would the surtax on high incomes raise more than twice as much money, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, but it would do so in a way that would place far less burden on the average worker, Gould and Bivens stress. Unlike the Senate’s proposed tax on high-cost plans, which would impact many workers with health plans that are expensive but that do not provide generous benefits, the House’s surtax on high incomes would spare all but households in the top 1% of the income scale any additional taxes. On December 11, the authors shared their findings in briefings at the House and the Senate.

While EPI research has generally found the House health care reform bill to be superior to the one being finalized in the Senate, it recently published an Issue Brief showing that the Senate Health Bill Scores Big for Small Business. The paper, by Gould and researcher Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, shows that small businesses are especially challenged to provide affordable health insurance for their workers because they are charged much higher premiums than larger firms and risk seeing premiums rise even further when just a single worker suffers a serious illness.

The authors show that the Senate health reform bill, while weaker than the bill passed by the House, would still go a long way to rectifying this inequality by giving small businesses more opportunity to buy quality coverage at rates that are affordable and stable, and by offering tax credits to very small, low-wage firms.

Following the passage of Senate health reform legislation, when House and Senate leaders move to reconcile the two competing bills, EPI will continue to analyze both proposals and identify which parts of each one offer the most promise in making quality health care affordable for all Americans.

[A Special Message from Elise Gould, Director of Health Policy Research]

By the end of this year, more than 50 million Americans will have no health insurance. Over a three-year period, around 100 million people go for a time without coverage, leaving them vulnerable to financial ruin.

EPI has long made the case for bold, comprehensive health care reform. As the current debate enters the home stretch, we need your help to keep pushing for fair and equitable coverage for families experiencing enormous pain and hardship.

Your support will help us continue making the case for such families during each twist and turn in the health care debate. As you can see from our recent activities, my colleagues and I are not just making these issues accessible to the general public. We are also informing the policy makers who are shaping the legislation and the journalists who are framing the national debate. Over the last year we have testified on Capitol Hill and briefed key policy makers in Congress. Our research has been cited by more than 100 electronic and print media outlets including The New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, and the Chicago Tribune.

Today, our work is far from over. While Congress continues to work to pass a health care reform bill, the outcome remains unclear, and the stakes are extraordinarily high. We continue to face a long road to achieving health care reform. In the coming weeks and months, as some will promote a superficial reform that does not address the serious flaws in the existing system, we will continue to highlight the need for a deep and meaningful reform.

We need your help to maintain our momentum. We have fully engaged all our resources in this fight for progressive health care reform, and we cannot continue at the pace required without your support. Please make a gift today.

Thank you,
Elise Gould, Director of Health Policy Research

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