Health reform questions continue to loom

Reuters reports that "President Barack Obama's drive to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system may be back on track thanks to Senate efforts to cut the price tag to $1 trillion, but a bipartisan deal on the sweeping proposal still is far from certain ... Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus was upbeat last week after announcing that panel members had found ways to bring the price tag to about $1 trillion over 10 years, down from an earlier estimate of a staggering $1.6 trillion ... Instead, the core group of negotiators -- three Democrats and four Republicans -- issued a tepid statement on Thursday merely affirming their commitment to continue negotiations."

But bipartisan support has not been entirely evident. "Several Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been speaking out daily in opposition to Obama's healthcare ideas. They are expected to continue the effort in July when Democratic leaders hope a bill will be ready for Senate consideration. 'We have some problems with access and with cost which can be addressed without wrecking the best healthcare system in the world,' McConnell said on FOX News Sunday'" (Smith, 6/28).

The effort also faces incoming attacks from more liberal lawmakers attacking members of the Democratic party, The Washington Post reports: "In the high-stakes battle over health care, a growing cadre of liberal activists is aiming its sharpest firepower against Democratic senators who they accuse of being insufficiently committed to the cause. ... The rising tensions between Democratic legislators and constituencies that would typically be their natural allies underscore the high hurdles for Obama as he tries to hold together a diverse, fragile coalition. Activists say they are simply pressing for quick delivery of 'true health reform,' but the intraparty rift runs the risk of alienating centrist Democrats who will be needed to pass a bill" (Connolly, 6/28).

Still, The Hill reports that administration officials believe the health reform bills will get done before action is taken on other legislation: "Democrats are crowing about climate-change legislation passing the House, but President Obama wants the Senate to consider that bill only after passing healthcare reform" (Brush, 6/28).

Meanwhile, another health reform bill has stalled, Roll Call reports: "Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah) have 11 other co-sponsors already - six Democrats, one Independent and four Republicans - on their bill, which is aimed at creating more competition in the insurance market and lowering costs by eliminating employer-provided health care coverage. Instead, consumers would get pay raises equal to their current health benefits and buy insurance on the open market. Bennett said he believes the bill has lacked traction with Senate leaders because neither he nor Wyden is in a position to place it at the center of the debate" (Pierce, 6/29).

Also, the AARP is threatening Senators who aren't bending on biogeneric prescription drug reforms they want, Politico reports: "The sharply worded memo, sent through an e-mail obtained by POLITICO late Friday, illustrates the hardball politics and dealmaking going on behind the scenes as Congress considers a trillion-dollar overhaul of the health care system. … At issue is the creation of a federal approval process for generic biologics, drugs such as insulin that are proteins made by living organisms. Name-brand drug makers want exclusive rights to sell biologics for 12 to 14 years before a similar generic version can be marketed. AARP is pushing for a shorter window" (Frates, 6/27).


http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article is republished with kind permission from our friends at The Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery of in-depth coverage of health policy developments, debates and discussions. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for Kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Copyright 2009 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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