Kennedy Outlines Health Agenda
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Thursday outlined his health care agenda as incoming chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the Washington Times reports.
Kennedy said he will focus on moving toward universal coverage, with expansion of SCHIP the first step toward that goal. Another major agenda item for Kennedy is a proposal called "Medicare for All," which would gradually expand Medicare coverage to U.S. residents younger than age 65.
In the first phase, Medicare eligibility would be expanded to include 55- to 64-year-olds. In the next phase, coverage would be offered to individuals younger than age 20. According to the Times, Kennedy described the Medicare for All initiative as "the starting point for discussions on universal coverage."
The proposal, which is co-sponsored by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), would provide access to total Medicare coverage, including prescription drug benefits. According to a summary from Kennedy's office, the proposal is projected to cost $600 billion annually and to generate savings of $380 billion annually.
The cost would be funded by payroll taxes and general revenues (Fagan, Washington Times, 11/17).
Kennedy's health care agenda also includes passing legislation that would give the HHS secretary the authority to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices under the Medicare prescription drug benefit. He said the HELP committee would work with the Senate Finance Committee to make the drug benefit "affordable and eliminate the 'doughnut hole' and other inefficiencies."
Kennedy said he would examine distribution of federal funding for the drug benefit, particularly subsidies for managed care plans. He said, "There's a lot of money that's rattling around out there, and the question is who's going to get it; and we're going to try to help those who should have it."
Kennedy also said he would work to pass legislation that would lift current restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. President Bush vetoed similar legislation in July. "We will be back again and again next year until we succeed in overturning the restrictions on stem cell research that hinder the search for new cures," he said. In addition, Kennedy said he is "hopeful" that Congress will pass "mental health parity" legislation that would require insurers to offer the same coverage for mental illness as for physical conditions (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 11/16).
Kennedy said he would work with outgoing HELP Chair Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), adding, " The gavel may change hands, but our partnership will not" (Lee, CongressDaily, 11/17).