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Healthcare Reform Update - February 13-17, 2010


Email Alert

February 17, 2010

Compiled by Brian Betner*

White House Hints At New Health Bill As GOP Sees Possible Upside In Summit
February 17, 2010

White House officials "hinted on Tuesday that President Obama might post his own [health care] bill on the Internet before the bipartisan health care summit he is planning" next week, The New York Times reports. "In the nearly a year since Congress began debating a health care overhaul, Mr. Obama has yet to make his own priorities explicit. He said at the outset that he would set broad parameters for the measure and leave the details to lawmakers." Obama said last week that he hoped to post to the Internet a merged bill that would address costs and expand coverage. "But Mr. Obama may be running out of time. His press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was asked Monday if the president would simply post his own bill if the House and the Senate cannot come to terms. 'Stay tuned,' Mr. Gibbs said" (Stolberg, 2/16).

Politico: "White House officials have said the president expects a unified House and Senate bill by the Feb. 25 summit. But given the lack of tangible progress on Capitol Hill during the past two weeks, it is hard to see how the president will walk into the summit with a bill that's been agreed to by both chambers" (Budoff Brown, 2/16).

Reuters : According to Gibbs, "'The president will lay out his ideas, and I would expect that Republicans will, and others will, lay out their solutions,' he said." Although Gibbs did not offer a specific timeline for its release, he did make assurances that the measure would be made public "far enough before the meeting to allow it to be reviewed. 'I don't have the exact day yet. But it will be in--in time for--for you and for others around the country to evaluate a plan,' he said" (Zengerle, 2/16).

CNN : Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday that Obama plans to use the already-passed bills as a starting point for the summit next week. "But Sebelius, in an interview with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, said the House and Senate bills already incorporate many GOP ideas." Among the specific examples she cited were "provisions to create special pools to make it easier for people with pre-existing illness to purchase insurance, the offering of low-cost insurance plans for young and healthy people, and regulations letting people purchase insurance across state lines--a version of which is included in the Senate bill." The president's plan will not likely include a public option, she said (2/16).

The Associated Press : After some early questions about the health summit, the GOP is now seeing its possible political upside. Although Democrats are likely to focus on expanding affordable health insurance to more people--they offer to cover 30 more million people instead of Republicans who are offering 3 million more covered--Republicans hope that "during a time of ballooning deficits . . . reining in rising medical costs--not coverage--could resonate with voters in an election year
. . . . With the summit more than a week away and lawmakers out of town for the President's Day recess, Republicans are in the early stages of planning their strategy for the event. . . . One potential hitch for Republicans is that there is not a single GOP plan" (Werner, 2/17).

Hot Button Health Reform Issues: The Individual Mandate And Selling Insurance Across State Lines
February 17, 2010

News outlets report on several of the hot button issues in the health care debate, including the individual mandate and selling insurance across state lines.

Minnesota Public Radio reports on the GOP idea of selling insurance across state lines, which could be debated at the bipartisan health care summit next week. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., talked about the idea in his State of the State address. Currently, states "regulate companies that insure their individual residents and small groups. So, a company that sells health insurance to individuals in Minnesota must get a state license and follow Minnesota's consumer protection laws. But for the past several years, national and state politicians have argued that state regulation has led to less choice and higher prices for consumers, because a few companies dominate the market." In Minnesota, says Pawlenty, three insurers dominate the market.

"Republicans like Pawlenty argue that allowing more companies to enter the market would increase competition and lower premiums," and "the proposal is contained in the health care reform bills." But there is disagreement over how it would work. "Democrats prefer a highly regulated 'health insurance exchange,' a marketplace where consumers who don't have insurance through their employers could comparison-shop for policies. . . . The reform bills also included a provision that would allow states to make insurance agreements among themselves." Some Republicans simply propose allowing "residents of one state to buy insurance from companies in another state" (Stawicki, 2/16).

Modern Healthcare reports on a new analysis suggesting that mandating that individuals buy health coverage "would be essential to the success of insuring people under the Senate health reform bill." The study, released by the RAND Corp., included "analyses of both the House and Senate reform bills plus a side-by-side comparison of the two bills" and "concluded that the Senate bill would cut the number of uninsured Americans to 25 million by 2019 (a 53% decrease, based on status quo projections) and increase overall national spending on healthcare by about 2% cumulatively between 2013 and 2019." The individual mandate "would play the largest role in increasing insurance coverage; it alone would reduce the number of uninsured by 21.5 million, according to RAND. 'In the absence of penalties for individuals who do not purchase insurance, 10 million more people would be uninsured,' the analysis stated" (Lubell, 2/16).

As Politics Swirl, Both Sides Prepare For Health Care Summit
February 16, 2010

With the White House health summit quickly approaching, members from both sides of the aisle "are pressing story lines on how the reform debate has played out that aren't as tidy or truthful as Democrats and Republicans would like voters to believe," Politico reports. "The summit could help reset the negotiations, but with [President Barack] Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, other top administration officials and 37 lawmakers all in attendance, the likelihood of a serious breakthrough appears dim." Politico presents the top five myths the sides are perpetuating including that Republicans were sidelined in the process and that Obama was always committed to bipartisanship (Budoff Brown, 2/15).

Roll Call reports that Republicans, although they expect little from the summit except for a "political farce," likely will attend the Feb. 25 meeting--"perhaps for their own public relations reasons--though they are already labeling the summit a failure. . . . In a letter to Congressional leaders dated Friday, White House officials outlined a summit designed to compare comprehensive health care reform legislation passed by the Democrats late last year to a comprehensive GOP alternative--which does not exist. The administration has additionally predetermined the four health care policy subjects to be debated." The subjects are insurance reforms, cost containment, expanding coverage and the impact health reform legislation will have on deficit reduction, according to the letter. "The administration has pledged to put its health care bill online in advance of the meeting, and the letter asks the GOP to put its 'comprehensive' alternative online as well." Republicans are saying that the summit will amount to little more than a public relations exercise (Drucker, 2/15).

The Hill reports that White House officials did not invite House or Senate Budget Committee leaders to the summit. "Obama's administration on Friday released a list of its invitees to the Feb. 25 summit, but topping the conspicuous absences were the top budget-writers in each chamber. For the Senate, the list excluded Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the ranking Budget Committee member who in recent weeks has been publicly courting the Obama administration for a seat at the table in the talks, and committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)." The list of people who were invited, however, include 12 Congressional Democrats and nine Republicans "with an option for House and Senate leaders to add four other members of their choice" (Rushing, 2/13).

Politico reports in a separate story that Democratic incumbents up for
re-election are themselves facing stiff opposition from liberal groups buying ads "likely to target the party's already vulnerable incumbents. They won't disclose many details such as who the targets will be, or the size of the buys, but they do say they will release new polling that shows support for including a government-run insurance plan, the so-called public option, in health care reform--an idea left for dead in Congress some months ago." Groups may risk, however, exacerbating the divisions among Democrats, Politico reports. "They also risk deflating the Democratic Party activist base if lawmakers don't pass legislation that meets its expectations" (Cummings, 2/16).

Senate Democrats Ask Reid To Go Back To Public Option
February 16, 2010

Four Senate Democrats are asking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,
D-Nev., to revisit a plan for a government run health plan, or public option, in the health care overhaul legislation.

The Hill reports that Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Kristen Gillibrand,
D-N.Y.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; sent a letter to Reid Tuesday asking for reconsideration of the plan. Bennet "called on Reid to reintroduce the public option into the healthcare debate through the budget reconciliation process, which would short-circuit filibuster rules and allow Democrats to pass a bill with a simple majority in the Senate. . . . Over 100 House Democrats have signed onto a drive similar to Bennet's, calling for that sidecar bill to include provisions reestablishing the public option." Reid took the public insurance option out of the Senate's bill "after it became clear that he wouldn't be able to muster the necessary 60 votes to pass a bill including the measure" in the normal legislative process (O'Brien, 2/16).

Politico's Live Pulse blog reports that Bennet and Gillibrand are in tough re-election battles and the "senators have made the calculation that the public option is popular with Democrats, and the absence of one in the final bill is one reason that voters are unenthusiastic about it." Politico also reports on the particulars of the letter: "'Although we strongly support the important reforms made by the Senate-passed health reform package, including a strong public option would improve both its substance and the public's perception of it,' the letter stated. . . . In the letter, the senators argue reconciliation has been used to enact significant health legislation, including the Children's Health Insurance Plan." The senators cited cost savings, increased competition and lower costs as reasons they support the public plan (Budoff Brown, 2/16).

The Washington Independent has more on the letter: "The Senate has an obligation to reform our unworkable health insurance market--both to reduce costs and to give consumers more choices. A strong public option is the best way to deliver on both of these goals, and we urge its consideration under reconciliation rules," the senators wrote (Lillis, 2/16).

Poll Says Most Americans Want To Start Over On Health Reform February 16, 2010

In a new poll from Zogby International and the University of Texas Health Science Center, more than half of respondents said Congress should start over on health care reforms, The Hill reports. "Of the more than 2,500 people surveyed from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, 57 percent agreed with a statement that Congress should start over--which is exactly what Republicans are demanding and what President Barack Obama insists he will not do." More than half also said they would prefer "Congress to tackle healthcare reform on a step-by-step basis" instead of in a comprehensive fashion. "Overall, opposition to the Democrats' healthcare reform bill outstrips support by a sizable margin: 50.8 percent oppose the bills compared to 40.3 percent who said they favor them" (Young, 2/16).

Meanwhile, Politico's Live Pulse blog reports on the results of a CNN-Opinion Research poll that found 44 percent of registered voters don't think their member of Congress should get another term. "That's a 6-percentage-point bump from the weeks leading up to the last election
. . . . Since 1991, the tally has typically hovered in the teens or low-20s. However, in the fall of 1994, before Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 40 years, it hit 30. And in October 2006, before Democrats won it back, it edged above 30 again." Those numbers might not be good for health reform, Politico reports, but there may be a silver lining for Democrats. Specifically, "56 percent of registered voters don't think 'most Republican members of Congress' deserve to be reelected compared with the 54 percent who think 'most Democratic members of Congress' aren't worthy of another term" (O'Connor, 2/16).

This information was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives and sign up for email delivery . © Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

*We would like to thank Brian C. Betner, Esquire (Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman, Indianapolis, IN), for selecting the articles for this week's update.

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