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Nolan bill seeks to delay fee of health care act

Citing a need to “fix what needs fixing,” U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Crosby, joined a Republican counterpart in trying to delay an Affordable Care Act provision that’s unpopular with business and labor.

Titled the Health Care Fairness and Flexibility Act, the legislation would delay for three years a fee on every person covered by large self-insured employers and insurance companies. The effort marks a rare bit of bipartisan cooperation in Washington when it comes to legislation, especially regarding the president’s signature law, known commonly as Obamacare.

The reinsurance fee, which was set at $63 per person this year, was expected to generate $25 billion over three years. The money was to be transferred to insurers in the online insurance marketplace to help them keep premiums down while covering higher-risk people, such as those with pre-existing conditions.

The fee is known in Washington as the “belly button tax,” Nolan spokesman Steve Johnson said, because it affects anyone who has a belly button. But it’s seen as unfair, he said, because it benefits only those who are covered via the online marketplace.

The bill, which Nolan authored with Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., mirrors a Senate bill introduced in April by Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

In the House, the bill is “groundbreaking,” Johnson said, because it represents a rare bipartisan approach to improving the act rather than dismantling it.

Majority House Republicans have voted 53 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

For his part, “Congressman Nolan has consistently acknowledged that of course there are problems with the Affordable Care Act,” Johnson said.

Nolan worked closely with House leadership and the White House in crafting the bill, Johnson said.

The legislation was greeted positively by Duluth-based Allete, which expects to pay at least $76,000 in reinsurance fees this year.

“This bill addresses major flaws with the reinsurance program’s design, taking a common-sense approach to assure that the program is still funded while making sure that the fees collected are based on actual costs,” Dave McMillan, senior vice president of external affairs for the company, said in a statement.

Unions support the bill because they’ve also been required to pay a fee under their plans, Johnson said. In March, the Obama administration denied a petition from unions that they be exempted from the reinsurance fee.

The bill includes no provision for making up the revenue, Johnson said. A flaw in the original provision was that it assessed a fee before the actual costs were known, he added.

It’s expected the money could be made up through surpluses in other areas of the Affordable Care Act, Johnson said. Failing that, a “loan” from the U.S. Treasury might be required.