Wye Group Hopes to Influence Policy on the Uninsured
Despite the "crowded" 2001 health care agenda, lawmakers have promised to address the issue of the uninsured, prompting the Maryland-based Wye Group -- a "key outside policy group" -- to recruit "influential" lawmakers, as well as Bush administration officials, to "influence the legislative outcome," National Journal reports. With the number of uninsured expected to increase if health care costs continue to rise and the economy slows, lawmakers "see an opening" to help those without health coverage through refundable tax credits, part of "major" tax cut legislation "moving through both chambers." The Wye Group hopes to provide assistance with the details of the plan, using a "low-key, low-publicity approach" to allow the group's approximately 60 members to "talk openly about new ideas and to work through potential partisan problems." Touting the group as a "steering committee on proposals," one member said, "The idea now would be to sort out different proposals and determine what's the most and least do-able," such as tax credits, defined contribution plans and "health marts" that would allow small businesses to jointly purchase health insurance for employees "at a lower price than they could get on their own."
Originally organized by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, the Wye Group currently "operates independently" of the insurer. The bipartisan group, which comprises "centrists" and those "to the right of center, receives funding from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and "encourage[s]" corporate members representing employers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and insurers to pay at least $25,000 in annual fees. The group has included "[w]ell-known" health care policy analysts such as John Goodman, president of the "conservative" National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas and Regina Herzlinger, an economics professor at Harvard Business School. In addition, the Progressive Policy Institute, part of the "centrist" Democratic Leadership Council, has been involved with the group. Health care aides to "influential" Republican and Democratic members of Congress, such as House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), also have "attended the Wye Group's meetings." This year, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), "considered an informal liaison" between President Bush and the Senate, has agreed to participate, while John McManus, staff director of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, will participate on behalf of committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and health subcommittee Chair Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.). Thomas and Johnson will likely "show up occasionally for meetings." Monica Tencate, health policy adviser for the Senate Finance Committee, also will participate (National Journal, 3/17).