Bill allowing early state waivers from healthcare clears Senate hurdle

Legislation that would allow states to obtain an earlier waiver from last year's healthcare law cleared a procedural hurdle last night, bringing it one step closer to possible consideration on the Senate floor.

The Senate agreed by unanimous consent that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is discharged from considering the Empowering States to Innovate Act (S. 248), and that the bill is referred to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.

The bill would allow states to get a waiver as early as 2014 from certain elements of the healthcare law, such as the individual mandate, the employer penalty for not providing coverage, federal standards that healthcare plans must meet, and the requirement to create health insurance exchanges.

Under last year's healthcare law, states can apply for this waiver in 2017. But S. 248, sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), would let states apply for the waiver in 2014.

Wyden and Brown introduced similar legislation late last year, and both see it as a way of giving states an option to develop their own healthcare policies outside federal requirements approved last year. But Republicans continue to focus on repealing the healthcare law, and Brown is so far the only Republican to co-sponsor Wyden's bill in this Congress and the last Congress.