WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has rolled out a benefits framework for millions of people who will get private insurance through the health care overhaul but states will decide the specifics.
The new law calls for the federal government to set a basic benefits package for private insurance. But that's tricky territory for the administration as it tries to avoid the “big brother” label on health care. Obama will be defending his signature domestic law on two fronts next year — before the Supreme Court and the voters.
The court announced that it will use an unprecedented week's worth of argument time to decide the constitutionality of the health care overhaul.
The high court scheduled arguments for March 26-28 over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which aims to provide health insurance to more than 30 million uninsured Americans. The arguments fill the entire court calendar that week with nothing but debate over Obama's signature domestic health care achievement.
With the March dates set, it means a final decision on the massive health care overhaul will likely come before Independence Day, in the middle of the presidential election campaign.
The benefits framework proposed by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius allows states to retain some leeway. Private insurance traditionally has been regulated at the state level and many state officials don't like having to answer to Washington.
The basic benefits package could eventually affect 90 million people, HHS said. That includes those who would gain private insurance thanks to the health care law, as well as many more currently enrolled in small employer and individual plans.
The proposal would let states pick a benefits package from several federally approved options. Those range from benefits offered to federal and state employees to the most popular small business plans in the state and to a large health maintenance organization or HMO.
If a state doesn't want to pick benefits, the default will be the package available through the largest small business plan in that state.
Initial state reaction was positive.
Insurers wanting to participate in the new state health insurance exchanges will have to offer at least the federally approved “essential benefits package.”
Business groups and consumer advocates are watching closely because they expect the federal government's decisions to set new national standards for health insurance. At issue is the right balance between affordable coverage and comprehensive benefits.
Photo: Kathleen Sebelius