A bipartisan set of amendments to the Senate's healthcare bill filed Thursday would permit employees already covered by their employers' healthcare policies to purchase insurance in the proposed exchange.

The changes would also allow patients to purchase bare-necessity healthcare coverage regardless of age, and it would levy new fees on insurance companies that are unable to hold down their premiums.


The amendments are brainchilds of Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine.), two lawmakers whose influence in the healthcare debate harkens back to the Senate proposal's Finance Committee days. Wyden, in particular, has offered iterations these amendments before, but Thursday's efforts differ slightly from his previous attempts.

“At the end of the day, Americans don’t care if a health reform proposal originated with a Democrat or a Republican, what matters to them is that it works,” Wyden said. “I’m proud to join forces with Senator Collins to offer common-sense amendments that will hold down premium costs and make health care more affordable for American families and their employers. "

Wyden's proposed change to the insurance exchange -- which healthcare wonks might recognize as the "Free Choice" amendment -- would permit employees whose employers offer coverage to shop in the exchange anyway.

If Wyden and Collins' amendment passes, employers could offer vouchers to their employees equal to what they would have spent in yearly healthcare costs. The employee could then use that money to purchase any plan on the exchange. If that plan was cheaper than that their employer offered, they could keep what was left of the voucher as pay; alternatively, if it was more expensive, they would be required to pay the difference.

The other two amendments are somewhat newer: Patients can now purchase catastrophic coverage regardless of age, provided they are not receiving federal healthcare rebates. And the two senators would tune the healthcare bill's current tax on insurers to the companies' yearly premium increases: As insurance providers increase or decrease their rates, so too would the federal government increase or decrease their tax.

Cost estimates are not current available for any of the proposals, however, and it is still unclear when the amendments package will field debate on the Senate floor.