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This Week in Health Reform: February 8-12, 2010

Feb 12, 2010

Health Care Reform Update

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FEBRUARY 12, 2010

This Week in Health Care Reform     

President Barack Obama brought health care reform back into the spotlight this week, meeting with both Democrats and Republicans and calling for a bipartisan Health Care Summit later this month. The President challenged Republicans to bring their best ideas to the negotiating table. In response, two Republican thought-leaders - former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis John Goodman - laid out ten GOP health care reform ideas in an editorial in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal . The ideas included more equitable taxation of health insurance plans, an increase in insurance plan portability and elimination of junk medical lawsuits.           

As the health care reform debate continues to take shape this year, we encourage you and others to engage members of Congress by visiting the Health Action Network.

Health Care Reform Negotiations

President Obama Calls for Health Care Reform Summit: The half-day meeting on February 25th was called by President Obama as a way to inject new momentum into the health care reform effort and reinvigorate bipartisan talks while challenging Republicans to offer their own reform ideas. In a CBS News interview on Sunday, the President said that the meeting would allow "Republicans and Democrats to go through, systematically, all the best ideas that are out there and move [health care reform] forward."

In reaction to criticisms that the negotiations have not been adequately transparent, White House officials announced that the meeting will be televised live, presumably on C-SPAN. The call for a health care summit came a day after President Obama met with Democrats at their Democratic National Committee meeting, where he indicated that he would not walk away from health care reform. The President stated, however, that the effort needs to be bipartisan and that Republicans must be drawn into public debate.

Following a meeting with both parties on Tuesday, the President signaled that he would be open to meeting his critics "part way," even if the bill does not include everything pursued in earlier versions. In a nod to Republican concerns, he specifically mentioned reconsidering medical malpractice reform.

Legislators from both parties applauded the Summit; however, both seem to be sticking to their positions, signaling that compromise may still be far from reach. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Republican leader John Boehner (R-OH) both called for President Obama to scrap the current proposed bill and start over. In a letter sent late Monday to White House officials, House Republican leaders reiterated this point and asked if the President would forego a legislative process known as reconciliation that could bypass a Republican filibuster and allow Democrats to pass a bill with just 51 Senate votes. White House aides quickly corrected any misconceptions that the President would consider starting from scratch.

New Approach Calls for New Timeline: As President Obama worked to reinvigorate a bipartisan health care reform effort, he indicated that the change of course may potentially extend debate into the spring . This new timeline directly conflicts with the most recent approach taken by Speaker of House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), which focuses more on swift, closed-door, partisan talks.

Congressional Democrats Point Fingers: After the collapse of the 2009 health care reform effort, Congressional Democrats are looking to place blame. Some hold White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel accountable, pointing to his lack of Senate experience. Others, in particular Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), criticize White House senior advisor David Axelrod for the administration's failure to provide clarity or direction on health care.

Democratic Senators also express frustration that White House officials have not done more to win public support for the overhaul effort. Plus, they feel White House officials need to offer more guidance, particularly following Scott Brown's win of the Massachusetts Senate seat.

Additional Activities 

Virginia Moves Closer to Banning Individual Mandate: On Tuesday, Virginia state House Delegates gave preliminary approval of a measure that would exempt its citizens from a federal mandate to buy health insurance or pay a penalty - a central component of President Obama's health care reform package currently being debated in Congress. The measure is expected to be signed into law soon by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Congress Looks Into Rate Increases: On Tuesday, members of Congress announced that they will look into Anthem Blue Cross's proposed rate increases in California. The decision came after a letter was sent by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to Anthem Blue Cross on Monday that asked the company to publicly justify the rate increase, considering the profits made by its parent company, WellPoint, Inc.

In a response letter to Secretary Sebelius, WellPoint indicated that the rise in premiums is necessary for several reasons. Among other considerations, the rise in premiums are to meet growing underlying medical costs, and to compensate for the many who have chosen to forgo health insurance or opted for lower-cost insurance coverage because of the recession.

Sen. Landrieu Defends "Louisiana Purchase": Ever since the passage of the Senate's proposed health care reform bill in late December, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has been criticized for negotiating a deal to award Louisiana $300 million in Medicaid funding. In response, Sen. Landrieu went to the Senate floor last Thursday to defend the so-called "Louisiana Purchase." She indicated that "nothing about this effort was secret" and called it a "bipartisan effort" through which Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal had made multiple requests for the funding. A spokesperson for Gov. Jindal provided a statement in which Sen. Jindal said he still wants a fix for the faulty Medicaid formula, but that he does not support the health care reform bill.

Public Opinion

Poll Shows Americans Want Some Health Reform, but It's Not Their Top Priority: Recent public polling suggests that Americans support the concept of health care reform, but they remain skeptical of the measures being debated in Congress and currently put top priority on the economy.A new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll released Thursday finds that:

  • Nearly half of Americans favor some kind of health care reform in the next two years;
  • Nearly 40 percent believe it would be good if the current Democratic reform package never passes; and
  • While health care reform is important, a strong majority (about 8 out of 10) cite job creation and reducing unemployment as the top priority.

Further, a national ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday shows that about two-thirds (63 percent) of Americans want Congress to continue to work towards a comprehensive health care reform bill. Regarding the bipartisan nature of negotiations, 58 percent of Americans believe Republicans are not doing enough to compromise on key issues; whereas 44 percent believe that President Obama has not made enough of an effort to find common ground.




Looking Ahead

As two large snow storms battered Washington D.C. this week and essentially brought the city to a halt, the House of Representatives postponed further legislative action until February 22 after a week-long recess for the President's Day holiday.  Members of the House had planned this week to vote on a measure that would repeal the antitrust exemption for health insurers, but that vote will now take place after the break.

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