Getting and keeping health insurance - a major worry for
millions of American workers - could be greatly eased by reform
legislation that the GOP-led Congress passed earlier this month and
President Clinton may sign into law as early as today.
The Kennedy-Kassebaum bill - named after its sponsors, Sens.
Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and Nancy Kassebaum (R) of
Kansas - remains a modest effort compared with the sweeping
health-care plan that the White House proposed two years ago. If
the Clinton reform rated a 10 on a 1-to-10 scale of change, then
Kennedy-Kassebaum might be judged a 2.
But the bipartisan bill does represent the kind of incremental
reforms in the US health-care delivery system that many experts
predicted would follow the failed White House effort. And it could
help end the problem of "job lock" for workers who feel they can't
leave their current positions because of possible difficulties in
obtaining new health coverage.
"There are a lot of people that will be helped by this," says
Linda Blumberg, a health-care policy researcher at the Urban
Institute in Washington.
The White House signing ceremony for Kennedy-Kassebaum will be
part of what might be called Clinton's pre-convention burst of
social policy activity. Already the president has put his signature
to legislation raising the minimum wage, a long-sought Democratic
goal. Before the weekend, he's due to sign the mammoth
welfare-reform bill over the objections of liberals in his own
Have insurance, will travel
Kennedy-Kassebaum is between these two bills both in timing and
scope. Its main theme is portability - the capacity of American
workers to carry health-insurance coverage with them as they
navigate the course of their working life.
Specifically, the health-care reform legislation would:
Limit to 12 months the period of time in which a group insurer
could deny or limit an individual's coverage because of preexisting
medical conditions. Workers would have to wait through only one
such year-long period in their employment lifetimes, as long as
they don't allow a substantial gap between the expiration of an old
group policy and application for a new one.
Further, insurers would be prohibited from refusing renewal of
health coverage because of the development of health problems.
*Require health insurers who offer individual policies to
proffer them to anyone who has previously had coverage for at least
18 months and has exhausted his group health-insurance options.
Insurers would have some flexibility in determining the level of
benefits these individual policies would contain, however.
*Generally require insurers who offer group policies to small
businesses to offer similar plans to all small firms in their