Wyden to offer free choice amendment to Baucus bill

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced on Thursday he would try to amend the Senate Finance Committee's healthcare bill to offer more choices for employees stuck with their employers' insurance plans.

His chief complaint: Sen. Max Baucus' (D-Mont.) proposed "insurance exchange" -- where consumers can compare and purchase insurance plans -- is not available to the millions of Americans who solicit coverage through their employers.

"Only very small companies and those individuals who can’t get insurance outside of the exchange — 25 million people — would be allowed to shop there," Wyden wrote in an op-ed published in The New York Times on Thursday. "This would leave more than 200 million Americans with no more options, private or public, than they have today."

Wyden's revision -- the Free Choice amendment -- would instead require employers to offer their workers "a choice of at least two insurance plans, one of them a low-cost, high-value plan."

Employers could do this by offering their own insurance options, or providing employees vouchers to purchase plans on the insurance exchange, he proposed. Alternatively, firms could insure all of their workers through the exchange, likely at a discounted rate, he said.

The result, Wyden said, would be a more competitive insurance market that could save consumers up to $360 billion over the next 10 years.

"My plan would actually strengthen the employer-based system by making it possible for even more employers to afford coverage than can today," Wyden wrote. "Employers who offer high-quality health insurance to attract first-rate employees could continue to do so. And employees who like the coverage they have could keep it. Those who don’t, however, would be able to shop elsewhere." 

"Ultimately, by empowering people to select the health insurance that makes the most sense for them and their family, we could end up with a system that works better for everyone," he added.


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