In California, President Fields Health Care, Budget Questions
During a town hall meeting in Costa Mesa Wednesday, President Obama discussed his fiscal year 2010 budget proposal, which he has said includes a large amount of funds for health care reform and other efforts that might not show results for years, the Washington Post reports.
Obama held the meeting as part of a two-day trip to Southern California that begins his national campaign to raise public support for his spending proposal (Wilson, Washington Post, 3/19). During the meeting, Obama also discussed the recently enacted economic stimulus package (Welch, USA Today, 3/18).
Before he took questions, Obama discussed a provision in his budget proposal that would establish a $634 billion health care reserve fund funded in part by an increase in taxes for U.S. residents with annual incomes of more than $250,000.
Obama said, "It allows us to pay for health care reform for a lot of people out there working every day but are one illness away from bankruptcy," adding, "I don't think that's unreasonable. I don't think that's socialism. I think that's a realization that we're all in this together" (Washington Post, 3/19).
Obama also defended his strategy to address health care and other major issues at the same time. He said, "I know some folks in Washington and on Wall Street are saying we should focus on only one problem at a time: 'our problem.' But that's just not the way it works. You don't get to choose between paying your mortgage bills or your medical bills" (Babington, AP/Kansas City Star, 3/18).
Orszag Defends Budget Proposal
During a lunch at the Christian Science Monitor Tuesday, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag defended the Obama budget proposal.
Orszag said, "The risks of not acting are substantial," adding, "We may be sowing the seeds of future crises if we don't address these widely known and broad societal problems," such as health care.
As Congress prepares to begin debate, Orszag said that he is "confident that we'll get a budget resolution that reflects" the priorities of the Obama proposal.
According to Orszag, health care costs represent the largest long-term fiscal problem that the U.S. faces. In the event that health care costs continue to increase at the current rate, Medicare and Medicaid will account for 20% of gross domestic product by 2050, he said.
Orszag cited the need to promote health care information technology, comparative effectiveness research, modernization of the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement systems, and preventive care and wellness programs to help limit increases in health care costs.
Orszag said, "The single most important thing we can do to put the nation on a sounder long-term fiscal footing is to reduce the rate of growth of health care costs. Period" (Grier, Christian Science Monitor, 3/19).
Use of Budget Reconciliation Process Discussed
House Democrats met with Obama administration aides Wednesday evening to discuss the process that they will use to pass the budget and health care reform and other legislation, Politico reports.
After the meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that the House might use the budget reconciliation process, which allows legislation to move through the Senate without the threat of a filibuster, to pass health care reform legislation. She said, "We just want to get a budget passed and we want to get health care passed. Whatever the path is to do that is fine" (Rogers , Politico, 3/18).
Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) on Tuesday said that, although he seeks to help Obama pass health care reform legislation, his budget proposal requires significant "adjustments."
In addition, Conrad said that he will oppose efforts to use the budget reconciliation process to pass health care reform legislation (Rogers , Politico, 3/18).
House Republicans on Health Care
House Republicans have begun efforts to "develop new policy ideas, anoint new political and intellectual leaders and rebuild a brain trust to lead it back to power" on health care, CQ Today reports.
In February, former House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) formed a House Republican health care task force, which has begun to assemble experts to provide members with the knowledge needed to debate Democrats on the issue.
In addition, the House Republican Conference has established Health Care Boot Camp, a weekly education series for aides led by experts from the Congressional Research Service and former congressional and administration staff members with expertise in health policy (Armstrong, CQ Today, 3/18).
Broadcast CoverageKCRW's "To The Point" on Thursday examined whether the $19 billion included in the economic stimulus package for health care information technology will help reduce the cost of health care, increase efficiency and eliminate medical errors (Olney, "To The Point," KCRW, 3/19). 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.