Fiscal Concerns Threaten Health Care ‘Priorities’ in Congress
Democratic and Republican congressional aides yesterday "expressed a desire to get to health care issues that Congress failed to address last year" but "cited money and election-year politics as limiting factors," CongressDaily reports. Speaking at the Academy for Health Services Research and Health Policy's National Health Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., the aides said that a Medicare prescription drug benefit, patients' rights and insurance coverage for unemployed workers are "carried-over priorities" from last year. Elizabeth Fowler, chief Democratic health care aide on the Senate Finance Committee, expressed "concer[n]" that President Bush's proposed prescription drug card discount plan for seniors "would take the wind out of the sails for creating a [Medicare drug] benefit." In addition, Democrats and Republicans "continued to disagree" about whether larger Medicare reform should be included in proposals to add a prescription drug package to the program, CongressDaily reports. All the aides' "greatest concern [about Medicare reform] was one of money," CongressDaily reports. "The budget presents a real challenge," Fowler said.
Fowler said that Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) "remains determined" to assist the uninsured, but added that plans under consideration last year to expand CHIP programs to cover parents of enrolled children are unlikely to pass this year "because states are cutting CHIP and Medicaid, not expanding them." In addition, Democratic and Republican aides said that any debate over expanding coverage to the uninsured will be "limited to help for displaced workers" as part of an economic stimulus package. But with Democrats favoring an expansion of government programs and Republicans supporting tax credits to help the uninsured, such a package "will not be easy" to pass, CongressDaily reports. Congress recessed last year without reaching agreement on an economic stimulus plan. Dean Rosen, health care adviser to Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said, "This year is a weird party where you wake up the next morning and a lot of the guests are still there" (Serafini, CongressDaily, 1/17).