Congress Must ‘Move Quickly’ to Draft Bill Covering Uninsured, Post Says
By focusing on the patients' rights debate -- a "peripheral issue" that may "slightly" improve "the lot of the already insured" -- Congress appears to be addressing the "national health care problem," a Washington Post editorial states. According to the Post, however, this "spectacle" ignores the uninsured, "the ones in whose behalf Congress should be working hardest." Yet, the Post notes that if Congress "move[s] quickly," it can reduce the number of the uninsured by appropriating $28 billion that was 'set aside' in the FY 2002 budget resolution for the purpose of expanding health coverage (Washington Post, 7/27). The $99 billion budget package includes a provision drafted by Oregon Sens. Gordon Smith (R) and Ron Wyden (D) that called for Congress to allocate $28 billion over three years toward a plan that would broaden health coverage through a combination of Medicaid and CHIP program expansions and tax deductions for employers who help their low-income workers pay for private insurance. However, the health care spending provision carries no specific spending requirements; Congress would have to pass separate legislation detailing how and where to spend the funding (California Healthline, 5/4). The provision stipulates the $28 billion will only be available as long as there is a budget surplus, excluding Social Security funds. However, additional congressional spending plans, the recently passed $1.35 trillion tax cut and a "weakening economy" may "eliminate" the surplus, effectively killing the provision, the Post states. Therefore, Congress needs to "salvage" the funding by "crank[ing] out a bill," the editorial says. Although the Senate Finance Committee has been preparing to draft a spending proposal, those plans have been delayed until after the August recess -- when "it may be too late." While the GOP "spent a lot of time deploring the plight of the uninsured" during the patients' rights debate, they did not act to spend the $28 billion while they controlled the Senate. Now that the Democrats manage the chamber, they too "seem in no hurry" to appropriate the funds. The Post concludes: "Too bad, they'll say if the money lapses -- and they'll be right" (Washington Post, 7/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.