Pelosi appeals to youth in health bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has agreed to insert into the House healthcare bill language that would allow young adults to stay on their parents’ health plan until they are 26 years old.

The measure is expected to appeal to young voters and their parents while also saving money. The parents pay the premiums, and their children get preventive care and don’t wind up in emergency rooms.

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Pelosi (D-Calif.) highlighted the provision on Tuesday at a Capitol event designed to highlight the benefits of the healthcare overhaul for young people. Pelosi noted that they are among the most likely to be uninsured, because they’re often transitioning from school to lower-paying jobs without benefits.

“Just think of the difference that this would make for young people,” Pelosi said. “They’ll be able to do what they want to do without having to find a job that has healthcare benefits.”

But critics of Democratic plans to overhaul healthcare say provisions in the bill limiting how much more insurance companies can charge older customers will mean younger ones actually pay more.

As they move toward a floor vote, Democrats are seeking to highlight the benefits of coverage to different constituencies. At an event last week, Pelosi highlighted the benefits of her plan for women, who often pay higher rates in the private insurance market.

Two weeks ago, Pelosi held an event with Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) to make the case that the plan won’t hurt Medicare. Pelosi’s promises to pay for the bill by reducing Medicare spending by $500 billion have prompted fears of cutbacks among many older voters.

House Democrats have also responded to unions by backing away from the Senate-backed idea of taxing high-cost health plans. Unions say such a tax would hit large numbers of middle-class workers who have dangerous jobs or negotiated better benefits rather than higher wages.

A group of four lawmakers, Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.), Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), had lobbied leaders for the change, soliciting signatures of support from colleagues on a letter to key House committee chairmen.

Supporters say they don’t have a figure for how much the legislation could save. Van Hollen said they are trying to “tease” a figure out of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Dahlkemper has sponsored a bill with similar provisions, but it was not voted on by any of the three committees that considered the health bill in July. It is, however, included in the legislation passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

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Pelosi has been working with fellow leaders to merge the versions of the healthcare bill passed by three different committees into what will in many ways be a whole new bill. That measure is expected to include an income surtax on the wealthy, but at different income thresholds than what the Ways and Means Committee passed.

Pelosi said last week that she’s considering including a windfall profits tax, which wasn’t voted on by any of the three committees. And when she submitted the bill to the CBO for scoring last week, she included new versions of the government-run public insurance plan.

Thirty states already extend dependent coverage under parents’ insurance policies for several years after their children turn 19. Generally, they cannot be married or have their own dependents.

At Tuesday’s event, Pelosi renewed her commitment to including in the bill a government-run plan to compete with insurance companies, saying it would be wrong to require people to have health insurance without enhancing competition.

“Unless we have a public option, we are putting them at the mercy of the health insurance companies,” Pelosi said.

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