Health Care To Be a Top Priority for the Bush Administration in 2003, Experts Predict
The Bush administration is expected to make health care one of its top priorities in 2003 as the "enduring problems" of cost and access force President Bush to address the issue, Los Angeles Times reports. With Republicans set to take control of both chambers of Congress and Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) set to assume the role of Senate majority leader, Republicans have an "unprecedented opportunity" to address health care, an issue typically associated with Democrats. Although final details on Bush administration proposals are not being publicized and are still being worked out, the Times reports that the administration has already made some of its health care priorities clear (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 12/28/02). According to USA Today, Bush is expected to say during his State of the Union address on Jan. 28 that Medicare reform is a "top goal." He is expected to announce changes to the Medicare program and its eligibility requirements that will make the program "more stable" and add a drug benefit (Keen, USA Today, 12/26/02). Bush is also anticipated to state that he will again ask Congress to approve "modest proposals" to offer tax credits in order to purchase health insurance. USA Today reports that Bush will announce legislation to limit jury awards in medical malpractice cases. In addition, Bush is expected to start pilot projects in several states to test several new approaches to cover the uninsured and "address other problems" (Page, USA Today, 12/29/02).
Bush also plans to reintroduce several components of his 2002 health care agenda, including plans to increase funding to community health centers that provide care to the uninsured and to expand medical savings accounts. According to the Times, with Frist leading the Senate and Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress, this may be the GOP's "best chance to define a free-market vision of health care reform" (Los Angeles Times, 12/28/02). However, a recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that 54% of Americans think it is not likely that the administration will "take meaningful action" on any of its health care goals (USA Today, 12/29/02).
Congress will likely make health care issues a priority in 2003, as out-of-pocket costs increase for consumers and states reduce benefits in Medicaid and other public health programs, Wall Street Journal columnist Laura Landro writes. According to Landro, health care appears to have a "powerful champion" in Frist, who many analysts predict will "secure a much-needed prescription drug benefit for seniors, a revamp of Medicare and some form of universal coverage or tax credit" to help the uninsured. In addition, Landro writes that lawmakers also may pass legislation next year to limit damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. Landro says, "Together, such changes could begin to fix what ails the system, if the costs crisis doesn't interfere too much" (Landro, Wall Street Journal, 1/2).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.