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Democrats unveil comprehensive healthcare reform bill; industry responds with mixed reviews


WASHINGTON Democrats in the House unveiled a comprehensive healthcare reform bill Tuesday designed to fill the gap that has left nearly 50 million Americans without health coverage.

Dubbed the America’s Affordable Health Care Choice of 2009, the bill will be debated in committee this week, according to the Associated Press, but has already attracted comments from industry organizations, including those representing retailers.

The bill would penalize employers that don’t buy health insurance for employees — exempting small businesses — as well as individuals who refuse to buy it for themselves, but would ban health insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums for patients with pre-existing conditions while allowing the government to sell insurance. It would also provide assistance for poor people, financed in part through a tax of 1%, to 5.4% on people making $350,000 or more per year and large cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

The bill got mixed responses from industry groups. The National Community Pharmacists Association, while saying the bill would require additional review, praised provisions that would begin to reform the way pharmacists are reimbursed for generic drugs dispensed to Medicaid beneficiaries.

“Community pharmacists play a critical role in the healthcare system,” National Community Pharmacists Association EVP and CEO Bruce Roberts said in a statement. “NCPA is committed to ensuring that any health reform legislation does two things: First, it should utilize medication therapy management and other pharmacist-delivered healthcare services to improve patient outcomes and reduce overall costs, such as from improper medication use; second, and more importantly, Congress should assure that there is a viable community pharmacy infrastructure to deliver quality health care to millions of patients across America.”

Other organizations have strongly criticized the measure’s provisions.

In a letter obtained by the Associated Press, 31 business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation, strongly criticized the bill.

“Exempting some micro-businesses will not prevent this provision from killing many jobs,” AP quoted the letter as saying. “Congress should allow market forces and employer autonomy to determine what benefits employers provide, rather than deciding by fiat.”

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