House unveils health reform bill

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The U.S. House of Representatives has released the America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, its version of how to reform the current U.S. healthcare system. To support the bill's initiatives, it proposes a 5.4 percent tax on U.S. taxpayers earning more than $1 million; and a 1.5 percent tax on those who make more than $500,000, but less than $1 million.

The 1,018-page legislation now will undergo consideration by three House committees, with the goal to pass a version by the August recess, as requested by President Barack Obama.

Particularly relevant to the imaging community, the House bill calls for the assumed equipment utilization rates for outpatient imaging and radiation therapy to increase to 75 percent, compared with its current rate of 50 percent.

H.R. 3200 also seeks to create a new health insurance exchange, with a public health insurance option, alongside private plans. It also includes sliding scale affordability credits, and initiates shared responsibility among workers, employers, and the government.

The bill would also prohibit a health benefits plan from imposing any pre-existing condition exclusion, or impose any limit or condition on the coverage under the plan with respect to an individual or dependent based on any health status-related factors. This clause seeks to end the practice of coverage denials based on pre-existing conditions.

By 2011, the Secretary of Health & Human Services (HHS) would have the ability to decrease the annual out-of-pocket expense threshold for the insured, as well as decrease the initial phase-in percentage.

The legislation includes sweeping Medicare reform, including repeal of the current sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula and an expansion of the government program. For SGR, the authors call for an update to the single conversion factor for 2010, and it shall be the percentage increase in the Medicare economics index for that year.

Additionally, the legislation calls for increased funding for primary-care services, without reductions on specialty care; individual responsibility for health insurance, including premium assistance for the needy; prevention and wellness programs and initiatives to address the physician workforce.

The bill is receiving widespread support from the president and professional medical associations.

"We urge the House committees of jurisdiction to pass the bill for consideration by the full House," said J. James Rohack, MD, president of the American Medical Association (AMA).