President Signals Openness to Mandatory Health Care Coverage
On Wednesday, President Obama indicated that he would be open to the idea of requiring all U.S. residents to obtain health coverage, as well as requiring large businesses to contribute to the costs of providing health insurance, the Los Angeles Times reports (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 6/4).
In a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Obama wrote that he would be receptive to proposals for "shared responsibility -- making every American responsible for having health insurance coverage, and asking that employers share in the cost" (Pear, New York Times, 6/4). "If we do end up with a system where people are responsible for their own insurance, we need to provide a hardship waiver to exempt Americans who cannot afford it," Obama suggested (Connolly, Washington Post, 6/4).
Obama continued that "while I believe that employers have a responsibility to support health insurance for their employees, small businesses face a number of special challenges in affording health benefits and should be exempted" (Koffler, Roll Call, 6/3).
In addition, Obama wrote, "I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans," adding, "This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive and keep insurance companies honest" (Edney, CongressDaily, 6/4).
Obama reiterated his belief that no U.S. resident should be denied coverage because of pre-existing health conditions and said all insurance plans should provide basic coverage for preventive care and catastrophic illness. Obama also called for the establishment of a health insurance exchange that would allow people to easily compare health insurance plans.
In the letter, Obama did not to address proposals to tax employer-sponsored health insurance -- an idea that he opposed during the presidential campaign but that has been floated in Congress as a possible means for financing health reform (Werner, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/3).
Medicare, Medicaid Savings
Obama wrote that he would like to "fully offset the cost of health care reform" by reducing Medicare and Medicaid spending by an additional $200 billion to $300 billion over the next 10 years. He already has proposed reducing spending in the programs by $309 billion (Wangsness, Boston Globe, 6/4).
The president said such cost savings could be met by better managing chronic diseases, avoiding unnecessary tests and reducing hospital readmission rates (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/3).
Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "President Obama's commitment to a bipartisan outcome will be the key to getting the level of broad-based political support there ought to be for redirecting 18% of America's economy," adding that he appreciated that Obama's letter did not "draw lines in the sand" (Armstrong/Wayne, CQ Today, 6/3).
However, an aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the letter "completely ignored Sen. McConnell's concerns about a government-run plan," noting that no Republican senators were invited to Tuesday's White House meeting (Young, The Hill, 6/3).House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the letter an affirmation of Obama's "determination to enact a government-run health plan that would raise taxes and ration care" (New York Times, 6/4). 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.