‘Un-Clinton’ Approach to Health Care Could Help President Bush
Some "small steps" that President Bush is taking on health care initiatives "could net important victories," the Wall Street Journal reports. Bush's approach is "un-Clinton"-like, the Journal notes, adding that Bush prefers to offer general principles behind issues and then let congressional negotiators "cut a deal." Bush is using such an approach with his idea for a Medicare prescription drug benefit, his "biggest health care challenge." In addressing health issues, White House officials remain aware of how "halfway through his first term, President Clinton's universal health care plan went down in flames," the Journal reports. Thus, Bush's "goal is to start small and begin the legislative process." House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) said, "I think what you see is a willingness to deal with an issue," adding that Bush's attitude could be described as "if the House and Senate have a better idea, that's fine." Although many Democrats have criticized Bush for his "lack of legislative specifics," his very presence "could bring a fresh start to stale debates over" health issues, the Journal reports. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) said, "Just to have a new figure there who isn't burdened by the past helps to get people focused on the future. You can think about possibilities, rather than tell old war stories about why something didn't happen."
Bush already has shown a willingness to work with lawmakers on crafting a patients' bill of rights. After Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) last week proposed a bipartisan patients' bill of rights, Bush followed with a set of managed care reform "principles" of his own that "mostly overlap" with the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards legislation, the Journal reports. Bush's offering "may have pushed the four-year-old [patients' rights] debate as close to resolution as it has come," the Journal adds. Limits on how much patients could sue their HMO for will be the "biggest sticking point" in the patients' rights debate, the Journal predicts. While McCain, Kennedy and Edwards have proposed a cap of $5 million on damages awarded in federal court, Bush and other Republicans prefer a "much lower" limit on insurance awards of $750,000. Still, Ron Pollack, president of Families USA, said that in the patients' rights debate, Bush has given himself "total flexibility and wiggle room. I think [that] definitely increases the likelihood that something will pass." But a victory is "hardly assured," the Journal reports. Pollack added that Bush's statements on health care "are vague enough that you can read into them very different points of view. We all need to hear more to know exactly where he is coming from" (Murray, Wall Street Journal, 2/13).
Some medical industry officials are not expecting "major changes" in health care policy during Bush's administration, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports. Participants at the "Health Care Under the Bush Regime" conference hosted by Dallas/Ft. Worth health and business organizations said that issues likely to win congressional and White House approval include a "[m]odest" expansion of benefits for the uninsured, increases in Medical Savings Accounts, a limited prescription drug benefit for low-income seniors and a patients' bill of rights that would allow individuals to sue their HMOs. Paul Dennett, head of health policy for the American Benefits Council, said that because neither Democrats nor Republicans have a "clear mandate," "[d]ivisive" issues such as health policy "will be even tougher to achieve" (Banstetter, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, 2/12). Elsewhere in Congress, Senate Finance Chair Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is holding preliminary discussions on a prescription drug bill with committee members, while Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair James Jeffords (R-Vt.) is "trying" to organize a bipartisan group to draft new managed care reform legislation and might consider reviving medical errors legislation from last session. According to his aides, Jeffords also wants HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to implement last session's passed legislation permitting reimportation of U.S. approved drugs from overseas that was turned away by then HHS Secretary Donna Shalala. For the House Education and Workforce Committee, education is "priority one ... but patients' rights is also a priority," a spokesperson for committee Chair John Boehner (R-Ohio) said (Fulton, CongressDaily, 2/12). As for Bush, besides patients' rights and a prescription drug benefit, he also plans to "press ahead" with a plan to create refundable tax credits for individuals who lack access to employer-based insurance and who do not qualify for government programs (Wall Street Journal, 2/12).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.