California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obama Vows To Protect Entitlement Programs in Inauguration Speech

During his second inauguration speech on Monday, President Obama reiterated his goal to curb rising federal health care costs without cutting Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries' benefits, Modern Healthcare reports (Daly, Modern Healthcare, 1/21).

Obama said, "We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit," adding, "But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future" (Pittman, MedPage Today, 1/21).

The president "made clear" that he does not support Republican plans to make significant spending cuts in entitlements like Medicaid and Medicare, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 1/21). Obama said, "The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security ... do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us," adding, "They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great" (MedPage Today, 1/21).

According to Politico, Obama's comments could pose some challenges as Congress prepares to restart negotiations in the coming weeks to avoid a slew of mandated spending cuts under sequestration and keep the federal government running when the fiscal cliff agreement expires. However, Obama's message could also provide him additional room to make changes in entitlement programs without restructuring them, Politico reports (Nather, Politico, 1/21).

Obama did not directly mention the Affordable Care Act during his speech, but he made several "oblique references" to the law's benefits and consumer protections, Modern Healthcare reports (Modern Healthcare, 1/21). He said, "Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune" (Politico, 1/21).

Republican Leaders Respond to Obama's Speech

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in a statement he released after Obama's speech, echoed the president's call to address what McConnell described as the "unsustainable federal spending and debt," Modern Healthcare reports (Modern Healthcare, 1/21). McConnell added that "Republicans are eager to work with the president on achieving this common goal, and we firmly believe that divided government provides the perfect opportunity to do so."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also expressed optimism following Obama's speech, saying that the president's message offered a chance to "renew the old appeal to better angels" (Kuhnhenn, AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/22).

However, some lawmakers said Obama's comments were a sign that he was not serious about reforming entitlement programs as part of a larger deal to reduce costs and the deficit, Reuters reports.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said, "In order to protect [entitlement programs], we've got to reform them," adding that Obama's speech and tone did not convey that message. Instead, the speech "was more like 'don't touch these programs,'" Flake added (Younglai, Reuters, 1/21).

Obama's Plans for Entitlement Reform Still Unclear, Observers Suggest

Although Obama's speech on Monday suggested that he might be ready to follow through on his pledge in his first inauguration speech to make "hard decisions" for entitlement reforms, his overhaul strategy moving forward still remains unclear, according to some observers, Politico reports.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), who Obama selected as co-chair of his fiscal commission, said that if the president does not get "a handle on health care and Social Security solvency" in his second term, he would have a "failed presidency."

Former Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who chaired the Senate Budget Committee, said Obama "has tried and tried hard" to reach a comprehensive agreement that includes entitlement reforms, but he has failed to sell the unpopular proposals to the public, which has a significant influence on Congress' decisions (Budoff Brown, Politico, 1/22).

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