Why Healthcare Reform is Job No. 1

This should be a win-win. Everyone agrees that our healthcare system is broken — it costs too much, it delivers too little to too few and it is gobbling up obscene amounts of our gross national product.

Each year we spend over $2 trillion, nearly 50 percent more per person than the next most costly nation. Right now, over 46 million Americans have been uninsured for at least a year and flood our emergency rooms for costly care. But the more amazing figure is that 87 million Americans were uninsured for at least a month over the past two years. The number of Americans who don’t go to doctors, who don’t engage in preventive care, who fail to heed the warnings of obesity, heart disease and curable cancer is a national tragedy.

Sen. Mark Warner: Enhancing Healthcare Choices for Seniors

Another step toward healthcare reform — proposed new legislation from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.):

The Senior Navigation and Planning Act of 2009 will:

* enhance Medicare and Medicaid coverage of advanced illness care management services;

* require doctors to provide patients with information on living wills and other planning tools;

* give providers incentives to achieve accreditation and certification in hospice and palliative care;
* encourage more comprehensive discharge planning; and

* increase public awareness about the importance of end-of-life planning.

And Baucus is the Moderate One

Roll Call, the Capitol Hill rag, reported yesterday about a meeting that the staff of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) held with health industry representatives and lobbyists, where they were basically told that if they met with a couple of Republicans senators, they would be crushed in the healthcare negotiations process.

To quote:

Russell Sullivan, the top staffer on Finance, and Jon Selib, Baucus’ chief of staff, met with a bloc of more than 20 contract lobbyists, including several former Baucus aides.

“They said, ‘Republicans are having this meeting and you need to let all of your clients know if they have someone there, that will be viewed as a hostile act,’ ” said a Democratic lobbyist who attended the meeting.
“Going to the Republican meeting will say, ‘I’m interested in working with Republicans to stop healthcare reform,’ ” the lobbyist added.

Republican leaders have been meeting with healthcare stakeholders for months, with those sessions occurring “more frequently than once a month,” according to a senior Senate GOP aide.

The stated purpose of Thursday's meeting, organized by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), is to discuss proposals for how to pay for healthcare reform.

In other words, if you exercise your constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech and you exercise your legal right to do your job, and you talk to Republicans, you will be punished harshly.

And Baucus is the moderate one.

You have to wonder what kind of threats are being made by Pete Stark, Henry Waxman and Ted Kennedy’s people.

It is interesting to note that the Baucus folks are most concerned about a Republican meeting about how to pay for this multitrillion-dollar entitlement that we simply cannot afford at this time. Cleary, the Montana senator doesn’t have the answer to that critical question yet, and he might be afraid that the best answer is the most obvious. Don’t do a public plan at all.

When Republicans put together the Medicare reform bill several years ago, they were criticized for not inviting Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to a couple of meetings with House and Senate negotiators. Rangel was dead set against the bill, and was disruptive in other meetings, which is why they cut him out.

But Republicans never went to the lengths that Senate Democrats seem to be going with these threats.

It shows how the pressure is really getting to the Democrats and to the Baucus staff in particular.

To the credit of the Senate Finance Committee chairman, he said he didn’t know anything about the meeting or about the threats, and I believe that is true. But I also know that Sullivan has been around long enough to know what impact his words have, and he was making those threats to send a message to K Street.

Those threats, though, are starting to look more like desperation than anything else. The AMA is walking away from negotiations, as is the Chamber, and possibly the NFIB.

The public option is starting to look like the weakest option. Cost is the reason. They can’t raise taxes enough to pay for it, they can’t cut spending to pay for it, and they can’t just put it on the credit card. The credit card is already maxed out.

But the double standard still needs to be mentioned. Had Republicans threatened Democratic lobbyists to this extent, it would have hit the front page of every major newspaper, provided for constant chatter on every cable channel, and Brian Williams (the president’s favorite correspondent) would have done a two-hour special on it.

Alas, what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. Still isn’t fair, though.


Tweety 3-P

Sometimes they have all the right ingredients: By that I mean news stories that combine Twitter's vacuity, with parochial political pandering (known as a "3-P") and media desperate for news on a slow day.

I refer, of course, to the short outbursts from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who used Twitter to dump on the first family for having the audacity to vacation somewhere "over there": "Pres Obama," he Tweeted, "You got nerve while u sightseeing in Paris to tell us‘time to deliver’ on healthcare. We still on skedul/even workinWKEND.”

Scant Agreement on Healthcare

Healthcare reform bills are going to start coming out from behind their respective curtains in the days and weeks to come, and the issue will consume the entire summer here in Washington. If two bills pass the House and Senate before Congress begins its August recess — which is currently the plan — we will be able to say we have witnessed a miracle.

How the Democrats plan to pull this off is beyond me and most other Congress-watchers who have witnessed the gridlock and legislative grinding halt that most major initiatives encounter in the marbled halls of the Capitol. President Obama's aggressive push for passing something this year is admirable and likely the only hope healthcare has of becoming a reality at all during his presidency, but what we're seeing nearly halfway through June isn't encouraging.

Here Comes Healthcare Rationing

By Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

The photo-op was too good to be true. Healthcare providers trooped out of the White House and trumpeted their goal of saving $1.7 trillion in costs over the next decade in health spending. Now these drug companies, hospitals, insurance companies, medical device manufacturers, labor unions and doctors have laid out their plans in more detail.

GOP Should Pick Its Battles

The Hill's A.B. Stoddard talks with John Feehery and Chris Kofinis of The Hill's Pundits Blog about where Republicans need to focus their energies in the coming months.


A Watershed Washington Moment

Good news is in short supply these days, or these years. Actually, it it so rare it nearly shocks the system. So yesterday was a big day in this bad new world we find ourselves living in — the healthcare industry has not only come to the reform table, it is (at least) promising to dish up a generous helping of change.

Officials from a coalition of healthcare interests, upon meeting face to face with President Obama, have announced their intention to cut healthcare costs by 1.5 percent in 10 years, a slice that would save roughly $2 trillion, $2,500 for a family of four in the fifth year.

The Public Option

As Congress mulls what to do on healthcare reform, talk has started to turn to a solution offered by some Democrats that is seen as a way to deal with the problem of the uninsured.

It is called “the public option,” and on its face it looks like a winner.

Basically, the public option is a low-cost health insurance option that would be run by the government, which would compete with private plans and which would give more people access to the insurance.

Two More Pieces to the Healthcare Puzzle

After one major false start, the health policy team for the Obama administration is finally in place. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) will head the sprawling Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), while former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) director Nancy-Ann DeParle will lead the newly created office of Health Reform.

The sheer size of HHS, with its plethora of responsibilities, makes it ideally suited for a governor (the last three secretaries were former governors). The secretary has administrative responsibilities for not only two of the biggest entitlement programs (Medicare and Medicaid), but also the National Institutes of Health, with its enormous research budget.