Los Angeles Times Examines Bush Administration’s Efforts To Promote Health Savings Accounts
The Los Angeles Times on Monday examined President Bush's efforts to promote the use of health savings accounts, an idea "far more developed than his Social Security plans [that is] advancing at a rapid clip through a combination of actions by government, insurers, employers and individuals." According to the Los Angeles Times, Republicans, "[e]mboldened by their success at the polls," have put Bush's "ownership society" reforms for health care "on the fast track," and critics say the efforts are advancing with "far less public attention or debate than have surrounded Bush's plans to overhaul Social Security."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) recently called for the development within 10 years of a network of performance and pricing information for health care providers, and Bush has proposed some initial steps toward the creation of a new information infrastructure. In addition, Bush last week called for additional tax breaks and subsidies for HSAs, which he said would result in consumers "at the very minimum" becoming more aware of the actual cost of health care. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said, "My view is that this is absolutely the next big thing. You are going to see a continued move to trying to get people involved in the process by owning their own health accounts."
However, critics say "Bush's vision represents wishful thinking at best, and, at worst, a perilous new direction in national health policy," the Los Angeles Times reports. "One danger with this is that people will not get needed care because they want to save a few thousand bucks," Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said, adding, "We are talking about highly technical services that 99% of the public doesn't even know how to spell the names of." Stark also expressed concern about the lack of best-practice standards within the medical community (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 1/31).
Congressional aides last week said lawmakers are likely to take early action this year to reduce medical errors and tie Medicare payments to quality of care, but "little else is clear about what is likely to be a very busy and stormy year in health care," CQ HealthBeat reports. The aides, speaking at a briefing sponsored by Women in Government Relations, said cuts to Medicare and Medicaid spending could be necessary to reduce the federal budget deficit but politically difficult. They noted that administrative efforts aimed at Medicare physician reimbursements could cost less than legislation to moderate physician payment reduction, and lawmakers could further reduce the deficit by enacting changes recommended by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.
However, one Democratic aide said such actions would result in "chump change" savings. The aides said lawmakers might not produce any Medicare legislation at all this year. Meanwhile, legislation to foster the spread of health information technology has "plenty of interest," but aides said there is division among lawmakers as to how to fund such a program, CQ HealthBeat reports. Other measures that likely will be addressed include proposed Medicaid funding reductions and legislation to address diabetes, stroke, hepatitis and obesity. According to CQ HealthBeat, aides also "suggested that Congress will be slow to tighten FDA regulation of pharmaceuticals and nutritional supplements" (CQ HealthBeat, 1/28).
In related news, the Washington Times on Saturday profiled newly elected Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), whose views on medical malpractice reform "stan[d] in stark contrast" to those of former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), whom Burr replaced. Burr said increasing health care costs have forced many doctors to abandon their practices, adding, "If you go into labor, you're going to go to the doctor even if you have to drive 60 miles. But if you're pregnant and need prenatal care, you might not drive that far."
Burr said, "If we can't come up with legislation to moderate [malpractice insurance payments], then the federal government could create an independent fund to deal with that." Burr called, "[t]he health care crisis ... the number one issue" (Hurt, Washington Times, 1/29).