For the first time in four years, the United States Senate actually passed a budget! Not only that, but to do it our Senators were up in the early hours of Saturday morning voting on 400 plus proposed budget amendments, eight of which were healthcare related. While the amendments that did pass are non-binding, they do serve as a solid indicator as to where some members stand on popular issues and what types of legislation are likely to be introduced in this Congress. In terms of healthcare, notably, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) proposed an amendment (#144) that was then passed by a voice vote that would “restore a sensible definition of full-time employee for purposes of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) proposed an amendment that would repeal the medical device tax (#297) component of PPACA. The amendment calling on Congress to strike the tax, an idea that has always enjoyed strong bipartisan public support, passed the Senate by a 79-20 vote. Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) also proposed a budget amendment that eventually passed by a voice vote that would repeal the $2,500 federal cap on flexible spending account contributions and the requirement that individuals obtain a prescription from a physician before purchasing over-the-counter drugs with their own account-based plan funds. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced an amendment that would expand oral and dental healthcare, which also passed by a voice vote.
Amendments that sought to repeal the healthcare reform law, allow employers to opt out of contraception coverage, place restrictions on illegal immigrants who gain legal status from accessing the health law, a prohibition on funds to advertise the health law and a ban on the health law's taxes on low- and middle-income Americans all failed during the night of more than 400 votes.