Philadelphia Inquirer Examines Universal Coverage as a Growing Political Issue
The Philadelphia Inquirer examines how the problem of the uninsured is "edging back into political consciousness," creating an opportunity for supporters of universal health coverage to promote their agenda. Ten years after former President Bill Clinton failed to "overhaul" the nation's health care system, Democrats are starting to "reasse[ss] their strategy" for implementing health care reforms incrementally. Efforts such as a Medicare prescription drug benefit and patients' rights legislation have led to partisan gridlock in Congress and "no real solutions," the Inquirer reports. But with the recent recession and the increasing cost of health insurance, Americans seem more apt to embrace "more ambitious goals," including universal coverage, according to several lawmakers and pollsters. As a result, Democrats are starting to push plans to "expand and broaden" government-funded health care programs. For example, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) last month called for the creation of a federal plan that would provide affordable insurance for all Americans, and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) is promoting a plan to insure "practically everyone under age 22." The Inquirer reports that the efforts are "politically significant," as Democrats and Republicans prepare to battle for control of Congress in November's mid-term elections (Kuhnhenn, Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/5).
Meanwhile, the AP/Lexington Herald-Leader looks at the stalled debate over patients' rights legislation, which has "disappear[ed] down a black hole called the House-Senate conference." Both the House and Senate passed bills last year, but talks with the White House have failed to "resolve differences" between the bills. As a result, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is just beginning to consider naming negotiators to a conference committee (Abrams, AP/Lexington Herald-Leader, 7/5). Negotiations between the sponsors of the Senate bill and the White House have stalled over the question of caps on damage awards. The Senate bill would allow patients to sue HMOs in state courts -- which often award larger damages than federal courts -- for denial of benefits or quality of care issues and in federal courts for non-quality of care issues. The legislation would cap damages awarded in federal courts at $5 million but would allow state courts to award as much in damages as states allow. The House bill would allow patients to sue health plans in state courts only for non-economic damages up to $1.5 million. It also would allow courts to award patients up to $1.5 million in punitive damages, but only in cases where patients won complaints against health plans before an outside appeals panel and an HMO still refused to provide care (California Healthline, 6/7).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.