State of the Union Address Mentions Medicare Reform, Bioterror Prep
President Bush called on Congress last night to pass a patients' bill of rights and legislation reforming Medicare that includes a prescription drug benefit, saying, "Americans know economic security can vanish in an instant without health security." The proposals were included under the third of three main goals outlined by the president in his first State of the Union address: winning the war on terrorism, bolstering homeland security and repairing the nation's economy. Bush also said his proposed budget advances the second goal by increasing funding for both bioterrorism preparedness and emergency response capabilities. "We will develop vaccines to fight anthrax and other deadly diseases. We'll increase funding to help states and communities train and equip our heroic police and firefighters," he said. In addition, the president introduced a new voluntary service program for Americans, called the U.S.A. Freedom Corps, that will work to increase homeland security, and he called on retired doctors and nurses to make themselves available in "major emergencies" through that program. Returning to an issue that Congress has debated since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush urged lawmakers to pass an economic stimulus package that would provide health insurance subsidies to unemployed workers, as well as tax credits for purchasing coverage. Finally, he asked Congress to approve a "historic increase in spending for veterans health" (Bush speech text, New York Times, 1/30).
In the 48-minute address, Bush sought to link the success so far in the war on terrorism into support for his domestic goals, including his health care proposals, the Washington Post reports. "We have clear priorities and we must act at home with the same purpose and resolve we have shown overseas," he said (Milbank, Washington Post, 1/30). The Los Angeles Times reports that Bush called on Congress to apply the "same spirit of cooperation" and bipartisanship seen in the war to domestic issues (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 1/30). To that end, lawmakers from both parties said they were pleased that Bush's speech put health care "back at the top of the policy agenda" (Brosnan, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 1/30). And in the Democratic response to Bush's speech, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) affirmed his party's support for the president's foreign agenda and urged cooperation on domestic matters. "Now is not the time for finger-pointing or politics as usual," he said.
Nevertheless, Gephardt and other Democrats indicated that the two sides remain divided on several health care issues. "Our values call for helping patients and older Americans -- not just big HMOs and pharmaceutical companies -- ensuring that seniors don't have to choose between food and medicine," Gephardt said (Mitchell, New York Times, 1/30). In addition, the Los Angeles Times reports that the president "made the call for conciliation [on domestic matters] without signaling any substantive concessions on the key issues that have divided the sides" (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 1/30). For instance, in the few remarks Bush made about health care, he repeated his call for tax credits for the unemployed and broad-scale Medicare reform with a market-based component, two ideas opposed by many Democrats. Moreover, the two parties remain divided over the scope and size of a drug benefit under Medicare. Earlier this week, Bush proposed spending $190 billion over 10 years to reform Medicare, including $77 million to provide a benefit to seniors with incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty level, or $13,000 a year (Toner, New York Times, 1/30). Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) criticized the drug benefit plan, saying, "I don't think it's an idea that goes nearly far enough. ... [The drug benefit] falls far short of the universal approach that all Democrats and I think some Republicans support" (Hutcheson/Kuhnhenn, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/30).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.