Congress again slows deployment of wireless roadside inspections, House clears Obamacare overhaul

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Electronic InspectionThe 2017 fiscal year spending package cleared by Congress this week bars the U.S. DOT from further work developing or deploying a wireless roadside inspection program until the DOT can ensure the program does not duplicate systems already in place at state and local levels, among other hurdles. The measure builds upon Congressional intent in recent years to slow progress on a national wireless roadside inspection until the U.S. DOT answers certain questions for lawmakers.

No other trucking-specific measures appear to be included in the appropriations act. Such bills have been vehicles for reforms on hours of service and other trucking-focused legislation in recent years.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2017 cleared the House Wednesday and the Senate Thursday. It now heads to the White House for President Trump’s signature. He is expected to sign the bill, which keeps the government funded through September 30.

The DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is already well underway in development, deployment and testing of a wireless inspection system, announcing last year it was beginning a third phase of testing involving about 600 trucks and drivers. The system’s aim is to inspect vehicles and drivers without the need to stop, via roadside sensors and transmission of vehicle information. The agency said last year it could be able to make a “go, no-go” determination on the feasibility of a national wireless inspection program as early as September 2017. It’s unclear whether the 2017 appropriations bill will affect that timeline.

The bill restricts work on the program by withholding funding for “design, development, testing or implementation of a wireless roadside inspection program until 180 days after [the DOT] certifies to” Congressional appropriations committees “that such program does not conflict with existing non-federal electronic screening systems, create capabilities already available or require additional statutory authority to incorporate generated inspection data into safety determinations or databases.”

The bill also requires the DOT to address privacy concerns of carriers and drivers regarding wireless inspection data.

–James Jaillet

House passes bill to repeal parts of Obamacare, overhaul others

On a 217-213 vote, a slim majority of House Republicans (without a single Democratic vote, and with 20 Republicans voting in the minority) passed the American Health Care Act, a bill that would do away with many provisions of the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” and overhaul various aspects of the health insurance market in the United States.

According to many watchers, the bill in its current form likely faces an uphill battle in the United States Senate. If changes are made there, reconciliation between House and Senate versions could ultimately mean a very different picture for health insurance than the details included in this report.

The House bill passed Thursday would do away with the ACA’s requirement to purchase health insurance or face a tax penalty. It instead encourages individuals to continue coverage with a 30 percent surcharge on premiums insurance companies could charge individuals (for a full year) who experience a gap, before returning to standard rates.  

Guaranteeing coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions, perhaps the most popular aspect of the Affordable Care Act, is preserved, to an extent. The AHCA prohibits denial of coverage for a pre-existing condition. But it allows individual states to waive the prohibition on using health-history to determine premium rates, requiring states that take such waivers to provide high-risk pools through which such uninsurable individuals can purchase coverage. This provision came as an attempt to compromise with the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus of the Republican Party, after Obamacare’s prohibition on coverage denials for pre-existing conditions was originally left in the bill largely unchanged, leading in part to the well-publicized March failure of the original AHCA.

The high-risk-pools system in part mirrors one that was in place prior to the launch of Obamacare’s national and state health-insurance exchanges, as reported in this Overdrive story from 2010. 

Significant other provisions include capping federal funding for Medicaid to the states for that program, which functions as a provider of insurance coverage for lower-income Americans. The savings in the federal budget has been estimated at $880 billion over 10 years with the Medicaid cuts, part of which would be offset in the bill by getting rid of taxes on higher-income Americans that originally funded much of the Affordable Care Act’s programs.

Insurance-premium tax subsidies to help those buying coverage on the individual insurance market, under the bill’s terms, would be based on age – from $2,000 for younger people to $4,000 for older, with as much as $14,000 possible for a family.

Republican leadership rammed the bill through the House before the Congressional Budget Office gave its official score on net impacts – the CBO’s score for the previous, failed version of the bill estimated 24 million Americans would ultimately lose or drop coverage as a result.

–Todd Dills

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