President Bush Promotes Health Care Proposals in Radio Address
Building upon several health care issues addressed in his State of the Union address last week, President Bush used his weekly radio address on Saturday to discuss proposals to lower the number of uninsured in the United States and reduce health costs, in part by capping noneconomic damage awards in medical malpractice cases, the AP/Tennessean reports. Bush has said that a cap on awards in medical malpractice lawsuits is necessary because "high health care costs are stifling medical innovation, driving doctors out of the business and pricing patients out of insurance," according to the AP/Tennessean. In his radio address, Bush said, "We can help control rising health care costs by cutting down on frivolous lawsuits against doctors and hospitals." The president is "trying to resuscitate" a bill that the House approved last year but that stalled in the Senate, the AP/Tennessean reports. The legislation would have capped at $250,000 noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases and would have limited punitive damages to $250,000 or twice the patient's actual financial loss, whichever is higher. The bill also would have limited lawyers' fees and the amount of time patients have to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Some Democrats said the bill would "help the insurance industry, not patients," the AP/Tennessean reports (Lindlaw, AP/Tennessean, 1/26). Bush on Monday will discuss his medical malpractice proposal in a roundtable discussion with Little Rock-area medical leaders at Baptist Health Medical Center (Oman, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1/25).
During his State of the Union address, Bush also discussed allowing the creation of association health plans, in which small businesses can pool together across state lines to purchase health plans; providing low-income workers with tax credits of up to $1,000 for individuals and $3,000 for families to help them purchase health insurance; permitting a tax deduction equal to 100% of the cost of health plan premiums for people who purchase catastrophic health insurance as part of the health savings accounts program created under the new Medicare law (HR 1); and computerizing health records to "avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs and improve care" (California Healthline, 1/21).
The following summarizes newspaper coverage of other health care issues Bush discussed in his State of the Union address last week.
AP/Newark Star-Ledger: Lobbyists for small businesses are "hopeful" that Bush's endorsement of allowing businesses to form pools across state lines to purchase health coverage will help push such legislation through Congress this year. Lobbyists, including the Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Federation of Independent Business, support the idea. However, Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association, says the legislation might "do more harm than good," because such health plans would not be bound by state laws (Rosenberg, AP/Newark Star-Ledger, 1/25).
New York Times: Although Bush has proposed providing tax credits to help people purchase health coverage, an existing tax credit program "has gotten off to a slow, sputtering start, despite energetic efforts by Bush administration officials," the Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 1/25). A provision in the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, which took effect in August 2002, provides trade-displaced workers with tax credits that cover 65% of the cost of health insurance premiums. The law includes a 10-year, $12 billion provision to provide trade-displaced workers with health and other benefits. Eligible workers can use the tax credits to purchase health insurance through COBRA, which allows unemployed workers to retain employer-sponsored coverage provided that they pay 102% of the premiums, or through state-sponsored health insurance pools and high-risk pools. Secondary workers -- those who lose their jobs because they provide services for U.S. industries affected by international trade -- also can receive the tax credits. Under the law, workers who qualify for the tax credits can receive them in advance or as a refund in their federal tax returns (California Healthline, 10/10/03). HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and Treasury Secretary John Snow have said the program could help more than 500,000 Americans per year. According to administration officials, by the end of December, only 5% of workers who were eligible to receive the tax credit had used it, the Times reports. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), one of the main proponents of the tax credit, said, "We have to find out immediately what's limiting the success of this program. We are talking about health insurance for people who have lost their jobs. The delays are troubling and unacceptable" (New York Times, 1/25).
- USA Today: Despite Bush's efforts to emphasize the importance of health savings accounts, which allow consumers to save money tax free to use for medical costs, people interested in HSAs "may find some bumps in the rollout," USA Today reports (Appleby, USA Today, 1/26). The Medicare law allows the establishment of HSAs for individuals who forgo comprehensive health coverage and enroll in health plans with deductibles of at least $1,000 per year for individuals and deductibles of $2,000 per year for couples (California Healthline, 12/16/03). HSAs, established through the new Medicare law, became available Jan. 1, but only Golden Rule -- recently purchased by UnitedHealth Group -- Fortis Health, Destiny Health and MSAver are offering the accounts so far. Aetna plans to begin offering them early this year, and other insurance companies, like Humana and some Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, are awaiting final regulations from the Treasury Department. The department has issued some rules regarding the accounts and is expected to issue more this summer (USA Today, 1/26).
The following broadcast programs reported on Bush's health care proposals.
- CNN's "Saturday Night": The segment includes comments from Bush, Democratic presidential candidates retired Gen. Wesley Clark and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and Republican strategist David Winston (Bash, "Saturday Night," CNN, 1/24). The complete transcript is available online.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment reports that Bush is "not ceding" the issue of health care to the Democratic presidential candidates, who consider it to be one of his "biggest vulnerabilities" and are "aggressively pitching" their "expensive, detailed" proposals to reform the U.S. health care system. The segment includes comments from Bush, Clark, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.) and Robert Moffit, director of the Center for Health Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation (Reid, "Nightly News," NBC 1/23). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": NPR's Steve Inskeep interviews Joe Antos, a scholar in health care and retirement policy at the American Enterprise Institute, about the cost of Bush's health care proposals (Inskeep, "All Things Considered," NPR, 1/24). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.