Health Care Reform Update From the Capitol for the Week of June 8
A "Grand Deal" is developing between business, insurers, labor, patients and providers that "would put most of its focus on lowering costs and establish a foundation for expanding coverage in years to come," Time reports.
However, there still are several questions to settle, including:
- "Will there be a big, new government system?";
- How can the country "afford health care reform" at a time when it is "already deeply in debt"?;
- "Can we really cover everyone?";
- "What will be covered?"; and
- "How will we bring down costs?" (Tumulty, Time, 6/5).
- On Thursday, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) said the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee likely will not complete its version of an overhaul bill before the Senate Finance Committee releases its proposal, the Los Angeles Times reports. Dodd said that HELP Committee Chair Edward Kennedy's (D-Mass.) continuing illness has impeded the committee's progress on the measure (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 6/5).
- On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that the timetable for health reform legislation depends on how quickly House committees can work on that bill while also working on legislation that would limit carbon emissions, CQ Today reports. Hoyer noted that none of the committees developing health reform legislation -- including the House Education and Commerce Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Labor Committee -- have scheduled mark ups for their bills (CQ Today, 6/3).
- House members of the New Democrat Coalition have not committed themselves to one side of the debate over a public health insurance option, despite efforts by party leadership to garner their support, the group's Vice Chair Ron Kind (Wis.) said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been working to bring the 70-member group on board with the proposal, which is strongly favored by more liberal Democrats. New Democrat Health Care Task Force leader Jason Altmire (Pa.) said, "Numerically, New Democrats are going to be essential to moving the bill." He said that Pelosi "wants to pass a bill. She's willing to work with everybody to get it done" (Ota, CQ Today, 6/1).
Debate Over Single-Payer Plan
- In a private meeting with advocates for a single-payer health insurance system Wednesday, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) apologized for dismissing the idea without considering it, but reiterated that it will not be part of the health reform bill his committee is drafting, according to people who attended the meeting, CQ Today reports (Wayne, CQ Today, 6/3). A spokesperson for Baucus said the senator "discussed [the advocates'] shared goals of providing quality, affordable health care to every American" and "asked them to work together with him to pursue that goal this year" (Budoff Brown, Politico, 6/3).
- Seventy-eight House Democrats have signed a bill by House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-Mich.) that would outlaw most private health insurance and allow all U.S. residents to enroll in Medicare. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said he hopes to include in the overhaul bill being drafted by the Senate HELP Committee a provision that would allow states to create their own single-payer systems (Wayne, CQ Today, 6/4).
Influencing the Debate
- On Thursday, the American Hospital Association released a bulletin to hospital leaders nationwide calling on them to urge senators to reject a Senate Finance Committee proposal to include a minimum charity care requirement for tax-exempt not-for-profit hospitals, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 6/1). Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has led the effort for health reform legislation to include a requirement that not-for-profit hospitals spend 5% of their revenues on no-cost medical care to qualify for the tax exemption (Allen/Bombardieri, Boston Globe, 5/31). Under the bipartisan proposal by the Senate Finance Committee, tax-exempt hospitals could not refuse service because of a patient's inability to pay and would have to follow certain procedures before starting collection procedures against a patient who could not pay. A hospital could lose its tax-exempt status and face excise taxes if it violated the standards (Boston Globe, 5/31).
- On Tuesday, the National Community Pharmacists Association announced a nine-week grassroots lobbying effort intended to ensure pharmacists have input on health care reform, The Hill reports. The campaign will involve about 3,500 NCPA members, who will make weekly calls and send weekly e-mails to 20 lawmakers on key House and Senate committees and their staffs (Snyder, The Hill, 6/2).
- Last week, a coalition of health care advocacy groups announced an $82 million advertising and grassroots organizing and research campaign to promote a "progressive" view for health system change, CQ HealthBeat reports (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 6/1). The groups include the AFL-CIO, Campaign for America's Future, Change to Win, Health Care for America Now, MoveOn.org and others. Former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean said that liberal groups will push for a health care overhaul that includes a public, government-sponsored health insurance option that would compete with private insurers (Wangsness, Boston Globe, 6/2).