Reporting from Washington — Some reader questions about the proposed healthcare legislation in Congress:
Will abortions be covered by the legislation as it stands now?
The House healthcare bill passed this month includes a provision that would bar the government-run insurance plan (the "public option") and all private insurance plans that receive federal dollars from covering abortion services. Employers can offer abortion coverage under their benefits packages. The Senate is considering similar provisions, but has not decided on specific language.
Are there incentives for individuals or companies to be accountable for their health?
Under the House bill, small employers would be eligible for grants for wellness programs, covering up to 50% of the costs for up to three years. Other grants would help train community health workers to teach medically underserved communities about healthful living and would fund programs to prevent obesity.
What are the minimum benefits that would be offered under the public option?
All insurance plans regulated under the House bill, including the public option, would be required to offer a set of "essential benefits," to include hospital services, physician services, preventive care, maternity care, prescription drugs, and mental health and substance abuse services. They would also have to offer rehabilitative services and coverage for medical equipment like prosthetics.
Who are the 4% of Americans who wouldn't be covered under the House bill?
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that illegal immigrants represent about a third of the 18 million not covered by the bill. The other two-thirds would be people who either cannot afford a policy or choose to go without insurance.
I keep hearing that the House bill would cost more than $1 trillion, but would also decrease the federal deficit. How is this possible?
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of expanding insurance coverage under the bill would be $1.05 trillion over 10 years. That amount would be offset in part by an estimated $167 billion in penalties paid by people and employers who fail to comply with the mandate to carry or offer health insurance.
The bill would also be paid for with $427 billion in federal savings, largely through reductions in Medicare and Medicaid spending, and $574 billion in additional revenue, generated mostly through an income tax surcharge on yearly incomes over $500,000.
Because the bill is expected to generate more in savings and revenue than it would cost, it has been projected that the budget deficit would be reduced by more than $100 billion over 10 years. But many people are skeptical of the savings projections.