WASHINGTON — National Retail Federation executives are scheduled to vote today on whether the trade association should back a compromise health care reform bill that excludes employer mandates.
The decision follows a vote Tuesday by NRF’s Government and Legal Affairs Committee, the group’s policy-making arm, to endorse the Rowland-Bilirakis Health Care Reform Consensus Act.
Steve Pfister, NRF vice president and director of public affairs, called the bill, introduced by Rep. J. Roy Rowland (D., Ga.) and Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R., Fla.), “a starting point — that’s the key operative phrase.”
Pfister said the committee’s vote in no way represents a full-fledged NRF endorsement. The recommendation still must pass a vote by the executive committee and board.
Until now, the NRF, like numerous other business groups, has stayed away from backing any of the health care reform proposals on Capitol Hill, none of which have become front-runners in the debate.
“We’re at the point now where our voices have to be heard louder and louder,” said Bernard Brennan, NRF chairman, who is also chairman and ceo of Montgomery Ward & Co., Chicago. Brennan, along with other NRF executives, is in Washington for the association’s annual government affairs conference, during which they plan to lobby lawmakers on several issues, including health care and renewal of China’s Most Favored Nation status.
The Rowland-Bilirakis bill meets the retailers’ litmus test by not levying any employer mandates.
It also would allow businesses with 50 or fewer workers to join employer purchasing pools to save money on insurance plans.
In a provision taken from a plan sponsored by House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R., Ill.), the Rowland-Bilirakis plan would require employers to make health insurance coverage available to their employees but not to pay for it. Also like the Michel plan, the bill would raise the deductibility of health insurance costs for the self-employed from 25 percent to 100 percent.
In an effort to control spiraling health care costs, the Rowland-Bilirakis bill would require marketplace changes such as malpractice reform, and would prohibit insurance companies from restricting coverage for people with pre-existing health problems.
The bill also would give the uninsured and underinsured access to community health centers. It has the support of 64 members of the House, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans.