Baird member of House group offering health bill

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan group of House members, including Democratic Reps. Brian Baird of Washington and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, introduced a bill Tuesday to provide health care coverage to all Americans through a pool of private insurance plans.

The so-called Healthy Americans Act mirrors a plan introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and would provide affordable, private health care coverage for all Americans, except those covered through Medicare or the military.

Coverage would be guaranteed, even if someone loses a job, and would be equal to that of members of Congress, lawmakers said.

"Many Americans are just a pink slip or economic downturn away from losing no t just their job, but their health insurance. This bill guarantees that won't happen," Baird said.

The United States is a leader in medical innovation and technology, "yet access to quality and affordable health care remains out of reach for far too many," Baird said.

"The Healthy Americans Act aim s to level the playing field and guarantee affordable, high quality coverage for all Americans and their families."

Besides Blumenauer, the bill also is co-sponsored by Reps. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo.

"The time has come to fix the health care system and the Healthy Americans Act makes way for comprehensive reforms that would offer all Americans affordable insurance," Blumenauer said.

Under the program, individuals would be able to choose from a variety of plans offered in their state.

State-based health agencies would guide individuals through the enrollment process by providing information about each plan.

For the first four years of the new system, employers who provide health insurance benefits for their workers would be required to convert their health care premiums into higher wages that employees would then use to buy insurance.

The Senate plan, co-sponsored by Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, would only require the employer stipend for two years.

The plan would allow workers to carry their health insurance from job to job without penalty, Wyden said.

More efficient administration - coupled with greater competition among health care plans - should allow better coverage while not increasing costs above what the government is now paying for health insurance, he said.