WASHINGTON — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) launched a drive Tuesday to require all employers to offer health insurance benefits, proposing a plan that would cost $25 billion and extend coverage to more than 24 million people.
"There is a fundamental flaw in a health care system that denies millions of Americans the right to health care that is adequate for their needs and affordable for their pocketbooks," said Kennedy, who is chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee.
"The proposal we are introducing today will require that every working American have access to at least a minimum package of health insurance," he said, contending that the requirement would not have a negative impact on business.
Range of Benefits
Under the bill, co-sponsored by Kennedy and Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), employers would have to offer benefits that cover hospital care, physician care, diagnostic tests, prenatal care, well-baby care and limited catastrophic care.
Affected would be 24.3 million workers and dependents, or two-thirds of the estimated 37 million Americans who do not have medical insurance. Employers would have to pay at least 80% of the projected 40-cent-per-hour cost per worker. Total cost to employers and employees has been estimated at $25 billion.
Kennedy said the bill permits small employers to form larger insurance units to reduce costs and exempts very small, very new businesses from most coverage requirements.
Plan Called Disruptive
Alexander B. Trowbridge, president of the National Assn. of Manufacturers, issued a statement saying the bill would "disrupt existing employer health plans, significantly increase corporate health costs, and diminish industry's competitive position."
Trowbridge said the uninsured, as defined in the Kennedy measure, "run the gamut from the truly needy to college students with part-time jobs."
The bill says coverage must include people working at least 17.5 hours a week, but Kennedy indicated he would be open to discussion of that figure during hearings.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who plans to introduce a companion measure in the House, called the bill "perhaps even too modest in some ways" because, even if enacted, not every American would have adequate health insurance and not every needed health service would be provided.