Health Care Reform Negotiations
Democrats Look for Path Forward: Recent statements made by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) are the first concrete signs that Democrats have started working to revive comprehensive health care reform legislation. Rep. Rangel indicated to the media that lawmakers have begun writing a compromise bill based on the legislation passed by the Senate last December. The bill will incorporate changes agreed upon last month by White House negotiators and members of the House and Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) did not commit to a timeline for reform, but hopes that Democrats can agree to a path forward by next week. So far, he has been unable to identify compromise language that will win the needed 51 Senate votes.
At the same time, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) indicated that the House would vote on a small piece of the overall health care reform package next week. The proposed bill would overturn the insurance industry's exemption from federal antitrust laws. The Senate version of health care reform did not include this measure because Sen. Reid could not secure the 60 votes needed to include it; however, Sen. Reid indicated the Senate would reconsider the measure.
President Obama's Budget Assumes Health Care Reform: On Monday, White House officials released a proposed $3.8 trillion 2011 budget including several measures aimed at improving health care:
· Hiring more fraud detectives to root out waste in Medicare and Medicaid
· Providing $25.5 billion to help state Medicaid programs swelling with enrollment due to unemployment
· Eliminating Congressional earmarks for building hospitals and other facilities, including $10 million for Alaska and $35 million for Mississippi
· Initiating or increasing funds for the following research projects:
o quality improvements for seniors with chronic conditions
o effective medical treatments for the costliest conditions
o expeditious ways to adopt electronic medical records
o medical fields such as genetic medicine that may provide breakthrough treatments.
Further, the budget assumes that some form of health care reform legislation will pass Congress. It includes a "reserve fund for health care reform" totaling $634 billion as a "down payment" for the legislation and also assumes that the reform effort will generate $150 billion in savings over 10 years.
States Begin Initiatives to Expand Coverage: With the fate of national health care reform in question, state legislators are pushing their own bills to expand coverage. Last Thursday, California's State Senate passed a measure to create a government-run health care system, ignoring a veto threat from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The measure is now with the State Assembly. Missouri legislators have introduced a similar bill to create a government-run plan whereas lawmakers in other states, including Virginia and New Jersey, are working to tweak existing state programs to expand coverage. Tight budgets in all of those states may hinder these efforts.
Virginia Senate Says No to Individual Mandates: On Monday, Virginia's Democratic-controlled State Senate passed measures that would make it illegal to enforce an individual health care mandate. This decision comes in direct conflict with the House and the Senate health care reform bills, both of which require all individuals to purchase health insurance.