Health Initiatives Shaping Up as Election Issues
While health initiatives such as a Medicare prescription drug benefit, a patients' bill of rights and expanded mental health parity face an uncertain future in Congress, there is currently "intense congressional maneuvering" surrounding these issues that "could help shape the midterm congressional elections," the Los Angeles Times reports. With the introduction of their drug benefit proposal this week, House Republicans "move[d] to neutralize an issue that Democratic candidates around the country have made central to this year's congressional election campaigns," the Times reports (Hook/Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 6/19). Democrats are "intent on portraying the Republican bill as a cynical exercise in political self-protection that seeks to neutralize an issue that traditionally helps Democrats with an important voting bloc -- older Americans." Republicans, on the other hand, "counter that the Democrats are more interested in a campaign issue than an actual law," according to the New York Times (Toner, New York Times, 6/19). Other health care issues currently "mired in partisan differences" include patients' rights legislation, which remains "stalled" because Republicans and Democrats are divided over the amount of damages patients should be able to win in lawsuits against health insurers, and mental health parity. A Senate-passed bill to bring mental health coverage to full parity with physical health coverage faces "resistance" in the House, where many fear that the measure would significantly raise employer costs (Los Angeles Times, 6/19).
Further injecting health care into the political arena, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) called yesterday for a "new era of health reform" and said that the war on terrorism should not prevent lawmakers from improving access to care and reducing health care costs, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. "Let me emphasize that the tragedy of Sept. 11 is not an excuse for more delay, but a summons to decisive change -- to meet our obligation to address not only the great threat from abroad, but the grave injustices that have too long hurt our national family," Kennedy said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Kennedy, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he planned to introduce a bill that would require businesses with more than 100 employees to provide health care coverage to their workers and dependents equal to that provided to federal employees (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/18). Kennedy also said he would introduce a bill that would "require health companies to cut their administrative costs through new technology, a step that he said could ultimately finance universal health coverage" (Kaufman/Nakashima, Washington Post, 6/19).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.