Health Care Issues May Top Congress’ Domestic Agenda This Year
Gannett News Service/Detroit News reports that "rapidly rising" health care costs and a "jump" in the number of uninsured may become "major" issues in Congress and the mid-term elections. Lawmakers also will likely address patients' rights legislation and a prescription drug benefit in 2002. However, Gannett News Service/Detroit News reports that the "increased attention" to health care issues in Congress "is no guarantee of substantive action." According to Marshall Wittmann, a congressional analyst at the Hudson Institute, the issues may lead to a "combustible situation" that "could blow away other domestic issues." An outline of the debate on the issues appears below.
- Patients' rights: Although lawmakers have failed to enact patients' rights legislation in the past, the differences between bills passed in the House and Senate last year "are far fewer" than in previous years, and President Bush has moved to "broker a compromise." However, the public "may be far less impressed" by patients' rights legislation than in the past, Gannett News Service/Detroit News reports. As a result of the "souring" economy, Americans will likely "worry about having coverage at all," rather than "problems they might have with their HMO," Diane Rowland of the Kaiser Family Foundation said.
- Prescription drug benefit: Lawmakers also would "love to deliver" on a "wildly popular but costly" Medicare prescription drug benefit. However, Gannett News Service/Detroit News reports "there is little optimism" that Congress, which could not pass legislation to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare "even before the budget surplus disappeared," will establish a program this year.
- Uninsured: Gannett News Service/Detroit News reports that the "complexity and sensitivity" of a patient's rights bill and a prescription drug benefit "pale in comparison" to legislation to help the uninsured. Lawmakers "differ sharply" on proposals to help individuals "keep or obtain health insurance." President Bush and Republicans support tax credits to help the uninsured purchase health coverage, while Democrats favor proposals to expand public health programs to insure more individuals. Bush plans to "build and expand upon" on a tax credit plan that he proposed last year in his fiscal year 2003 budget. According to Rowland, tax credit proposals "have become less of an out-of-bounds idea" than in the past "and are now a central part of the debate" over health insurance (Frandsen, Gannett News Service/Detroit News, 1/29).
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