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Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report

Capitol Hill Watch | Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report Highlights Recent Developments Related To Health Care Overhaul Efforts

[Nov 21, 2008]

      Summaries of several recent developments related to health care overhaul efforts appear below.

  • Congressional players: Congressional Democrats who hope to pass health care reform legislation next year will have to "walk a fine line as they seek to work together on what promises to be a historic legislative endeavor," as many of the "key players in the debate" have a "storied history of attempting to elbow others out of the way," Roll Call reports. Some of the important players include former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), whom President-elect Barack Obama reportedly plans to nominate as HHS secretary; Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.); Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.); and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). According to Roll Call, despite certain tendencies, "most of the power players and their aides say everyone is mindful of the need to play nice to avoid the pitfalls of the Clinton administration's failed universal health care plan, when Democratic infighting allowed Republican opponents to define the issue and sink the proposal" (Pierce, Roll Call, 11/21).
  • Kennedy: Kennedy, despite his recent diagnosis of incurable brain cancer, has returned to Capitol Hill "on a mission that so far has proved impossible: enactment of comprehensive health care legislation that would provide coverage for the nation's estimated 47 million people who don't have health insurance," USA Today reports. According to USA Today, "Kennedy's reappearance" after a seizure and subsequent brain surgery "sets up a potentially dramatic race against time as he seeks to cajole the notoriously slow-moving Senate into delivering the capstone of his four-decade legislative career." Congressional Democrats "are approaching health care reform cautiously," with some "urging a go-slow approach," but increases in health care costs and the number of residents without health insurance are "creating momentum for action," according to USA Today (Kiely, USA Today, 11/21).
  • Peter Orszag: Former Congressional Budget Office staffers on Thursday appeared divided over whether agency director Orszag's potential move to head the Office of Management and Budget "would move the ball forward on overhauling health care or push it back," CQ HealthBeat reports. But they "agreed that the appointment would be a strong addition" to "Obama's inner circle as it confronts the twin challenges of a faltering economy and a dysfunctional health care system" and that "Orszag could prove to be a forceful advocate for controlling Medicare spending," according to CQ HealthBeat. CQ HealthBeat reports that Orszag, whom Obama reportedly plans to name as OMB director, could have a role in health care overhaul efforts and "could be a big player" on efforts to link spending and quality of care under Medicare (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 11/20).
  • Pay-go rules: Pay-go rules should not delay efforts by congressional Democrats to pass comprehensive health care overhaul legislation next year, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said on Thursday, CQ Today reports. According to Rangel, the passage of health care overhaul legislation is more important than concerns about the effect of such legislation on the federal budget deficit. His position "suggests that Democrats will see a major overhaul of health care laws as important enough to circumvent" pay-go rules, but some Republicans have "expressed concern" about that prospect, according to CQ Today (Wayne, CQ Today, 11/20).
  • Technology companies: Expectations for health care overhaul next year and a "desire of governments worldwide to drive costs of national health systems" have prompted more tech companies to "bet on health care and what many of them see as a lucrative -- but relatively untapped -- market," an "opportunity that tech companies underestimate at their own peril," Reuters reports. According to Reuters, a number of tech companies that previously had limited or no connection to health care have begun to develop tools to reduce health care costs and improve patient care. Andrew Rocklin, an analyst at Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, said, "Health care is a $2.5 trillion market in the United States alone," adding, "Anybody who chooses not to participate could be giving up a potentially large amount of revenue" (Kahn, Reuters, 11/21).
  • Town hall meetings: PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions on Thursday hosted a series of town hall meetings in a dozen locations nationwide to discuss the top priorities for health care overhaul, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. According to meeting participants, the "central challenge" is the development of proposals to "fix a monumentally complex and costly health system amid a nose-diving economy," the Chronicle reports. The meetings coincided with the release of a survey by the groups that found U.S. residents cite efforts to reduce costs as their top health care priority, while health industry leaders prioritize expanded access to coverage, according to the Chronicle. The survey included 1,800 respondents, including 800 policymakers and health industry executives (Fernandez, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/21).

Opinion Pieces
Summaries of several recent opinion pieces related to health care overhaul appear below.

  • Gerald Seib, Wall Street Journal: The "opportunities for the Obama administration to drive through its agenda" on health care and other issues "actually are getting better" as the "economic signs grow ever more grim," Journal columnist Seib writes. He writes, "The thing about a crisis ... is that it creates a sense of urgency." According to Seib, as a result of the current economic downturn, thousands of U.S. residents will lose their jobs and employer-sponsored health insurance and "swell the ranks of the nation's uninsured." He adds, "That will add a bit of rocket fuel to the Obama call for universal health coverage" (Seib, Wall Street Journal, 11/21).
  • David Sirota, San Francisco Chronicle: "Based on advertisements, Obama identified no more important priority than guaranteeing health care for all citizens," Sirota, a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network, writes in a Chronicle opinion piece. He writes, "The moral case for universal health care is obvious," adding, "In the world's richest country, ... 18,000 people die each year because they lack health insurance." According to Sirota, "We permit this annual massacre while our wasteful system exacerbates our debt and saps our economic competitiveness by forcing us to spend more money per capita on health care than any other nation." He writes, "That said, if morality alone prompted solutions, this problem would have been addressed long ago." Sirota adds, "While some claim the deficit should preclude bold health care legislation, it's the other way around," and "as with everything in Washington, a political motive is needed for action -- and even conservatives acknowledge Democrats have such a motive when it comes to health care" (Sirota, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/21).
  • William Snyder, Wall Street Journal: Obama as president "will almost certainly move quickly toward some form of government-provided -- and possibly government-mandated -- health insurance," Snyder, a policy adviser to the Heartland Institute, writes in a Journal opinion piece. He adds, "A principal reason for this is the oft-cited figure of 46 million uninsured U.S. residents," but the "notion that there are 46 million Americans who can't get the health care they need for lack of money or public assistance is a myth." Snyder writes that the "other two common misperceptions are that the uninsured don't get health care and that when they do they're 'free riders,' i.e., they don't pay for the care they get." According to Snyder, "Perhaps we should look for ways to encourage the millions of people who are currently eligible for existing government programs to enroll before we expand programs to include people that may not need assistance" (Snyder, Wall Street Journal, 11/21).