President Bush Expected To Focus on Health Care Proposals in State of the Union Address
President Bush on Tuesday is expected to speak about rising health care costs and expanding health coverage to the uninsured in his State of the Union address, which is thought to focus largely on domestic issues, the Wall Street Journal reports. Health care appears to be an issue that "will undoubtedly fuel [Bush's] drive for re-election," according to the Journal (Hitt, Wall Street Journal, 1/19). The president is expected to outline a multifaceted plan aimed at helping U.S. residents with increasing health care costs, according to people briefed by White House officials, the New York Times reports (Stevenson, New York Times, 1/20). A senior Bush administration official said, "One of the main drivers of a significant section of the uninsured in America is because of the rising costs of health care. And those can be addressed from several different ways, which [Bush will] talk about on Tuesday" (Bumiller/Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 1/17). Bush's plan is thought to "rely largely on existing proposals" to address health care costs, including suggestions to address medical malpractice premium increases and to allow small businesses to pool together to purchase health care coverage for their employees, according to the Times. Bush is also expected to reiterate his call for giving tax credits to individuals to help them purchase health insurance (New York Times, 1/20). Last year, Bush proposed spending up to $89 billion to give health care tax credits to people without employer-sponsored coverage, but Congress took no action on the plan (Lindlaw, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/20). In addition, Bush is expected to discuss health savings accounts, which allow employees to place tax-free money in accounts for medical expenses. However it is "not clear" whether Bush will propose expanding the number of people eligible for a health savings account -- currently available to individuals with deductibles of $1,000 or more and to families with deductibles of at least $2,000 -- or "simply ... highlight it as one way his administration is working to deal with the issue," according to people who have discussed the matter with White House officials, the Times reports (New York Times, 1/20). In addition, Bush is expected to "highlight his successful efforts" in the past year to create a Medicare prescription drug benefit, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/20).
The Washington Post on Tuesday examined some of the "ambitious" policies that Bush highlighted in previous State of the Union speeches, including several related to health care, noting that "Congress has resisted more of his domestic proposals than it has embraced." The House but not the Senate approved a plan backed by Bush that would cap awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. Although Bush has repeatedly called for such a cap, lawmakers do not anticipate any movement on the issue without a change in the Senate's majority, the Post reports. Neither the House nor the Senate has acted on a Bush proposal regarding Medicaid reform. While the House will continue holding hearings on the issue, whether the plan will come to the floor remains "an open question" because Republicans "expended a lot of capital" last year to work on the Medicare legislation, according to a GOP aide in the House. Even though reducing the number of uninsured people is expected to be among Bush's State of the Union proposals, aides say "neither [chamber] of Congress will do more this year than debate" ways to help the uninsured, the Post reports. Budget pressures are also expected to inhibit any progress on Bush's proposed $89 billion in tax credits to help individuals purchase health insurance (Goldstein, Washington Post, 1/20).
Nearly six out of 10 U.S. residents approve of how Bush is handling his job overall, but the public believes that Democrats would do a better job on several domestic issues, including Medicare and prescription drug benefits for seniors, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, the Post reports. The poll is based on telephone interviews between Jan. 15 and Jan. 18 with 1,036 randomly selected adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. According to the poll, about four in 10 people approve of how Bush is handling the Medicare prescription drug benefit, six percentage points lower than his rating less than one year ago (Morin/Milbank, Washington Post, 1/20). According to the poll, 51% of respondents trusted Democrats to do a better job on prescription drug benefits for seniors. Fifty-three percent of respondents trusted Democrats on Medicare issues more than Bush, compared with 35% who trusted Bush more than Democratic lawmakers on the issue. In addition, 52% of respondents said they trusted Democrats to do a better job handling issues of health care costs, availability and coverage, compared with 33% who believed that Bush would do a better job (Washington Post, 1/20).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.