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Senate Spars Over Public Health Insurance Plans

Senate public health insurance discussion

Democrat and Republic Senators are continuing their debate this week on the implementation of a national public health insurance plan. The Senate is set to release a plan for an affordable public health insurance later next month, yet still many questions remain as to how some crucial details will be ironed-out. Democrats insist such a plan is crucial in lowering the nation's health care costs, while Republicans are voicing concerns that such a plan will drive private health insurance providers out of business.

Also topping the list of concerns for Republicans is the "pay-or-play" provision Democrats are seeking to attach the any public health insurance plan that the Senate decides upon. This provision mandates that employers provide health care insurance for their workers, or provide them with money to do so, vouchers essentially. The fear concerning this provision is that such a move would cause and/or force some small business owners, who cannot afford the additional expenses, to lay off workers. A document from the House Energy and Commerce Committee offers a variation of this plan, suggesting employers pay a portion of their payroll to the federal government.

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As the public health insurance plan stands for now, the majority of House and Senate Democrats want to make the plan available to households earning up to $88,000 per year. The issue at hand, namely consists of broadening government assistance to groups traditionally left out of such plans, not simply the elderly, the so-called poor, and children. Republicans are shying away also from the idea of mandating health care insurance and the penalties that could be imposed on an individual or a company for failing to carry it.

According to the Boston Globe, consumers have paid $16 million in penalties for failing to carry health insurance under a Massachusetts 2006 law requiring them to do so. The Globe also reports that companies have been charged $7.7 million under the state's law for similar reasons.

With another month to go before the Senate looks to release its version of a public health insurance plan, there is much debate yet to take place. Most officials agree that steps must be taken to address the number of uninsured Americans. However, what exactly those steps will be remains to be seen. Democrats insist a public health insurance plan is necessary to regulate insurance and health care delivery costs. Many Republicans argue this is a step towards a single-payer, read government-run, health care program. It's safe to say, the debate between balancing regulation and a free market will carry on into this summer.