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Convergence and the Death of the Public Option

Tim-greaneySo maybe the two parties are coming together on health reform after all. Last night we learned that after days of “secret talks” among the “gang of ten” the Democrats have reached agreement to restructure their health care proposal. The changes are significant:

– ditch the already-watered-down public option plan;

– create a new insurance exchange “option” for individuals and small groups consisting of a nonprofit plan as negotiated by the Office of Personnel Management;

– expand Medicare eligibility to cover uninsured individuals aged 55-64.

What does the Democrats’ “public option ultralight” compromise have in common with Republicans’ alternative universe? Well, consider the latter’s proposal to open interstate competition for all health insurers–a move they promise will immediately lower health care costs. Besides being shameless attempts to offer simple solutions to complex problems, the two proposals are guilty of the same fundamental misunderstanding of health insurance. Simply put, they both ignore a critical economic truth of health insurance today: insurers require a provider network of hospitals and doctors or must have market leverage in order to negotiate for lower provider prices and for controls on excessive volume.

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The Outlook for a Health Reform Bill in 2009

CongressReaders know of my year long pessimism over our getting a trillion dollar health care bill in 2009.

With the historic passage of the House bill, are we now on our way to a big health care bill in 2009—or even by early 2010? Clearly, Democrats desperately want to pass a bill. Given their compromise over abortion and the neutering of the public option in the House legislation—things most liberals said they would never agree to—it is clear the Democratic leadership will take any deal they can get.

But there are still some giant obstacles on the way to a Rose Garden bill signing late this year or early next:

  1. Getting and keeping 60 Senate votes across a wide spectrum of complex issues. Senate Majority Leader Reid has not achieved a 60-vote consensus on any of the dozen or more contentious issues. In the wake of Pelosi not being able to get more than a two-vote margin for the neutered public option, some Democratic Senators will have no interest in the “robust” version with the state opt-out Reid has been talking about. He has made even less progress on all of the other contentious issues–and you can put abortion on the top of that list. Figuring out the “sweet spot” on each issue that keeps the same 60 votes on side for the entire bill would take a super computer—if that were even possible. The growing angst over these health bills not bending any cost curves and actually getting the savings from Medicare that is projected. With the demise of the robust public option even a lot of “sympathetic voices” are having second thoughts. How many op-eds and editorials can you have announcing this is not health care reform and it is likely to continue adding to deficits before everyone wants out?The latest blow was the report from the CMS actuary that says Medicare beneficiaries will suffer from the program cuts in the bills and health care costs will more likely continue to add to the deficits. I expect opponents are cutting new ads using the CMS report against the Democratic bills at this moment.
  2. The polls are still showing opposition well ahead of support for the Democratic bills. Pollster.com combines a number of polls finding 42.5% favor and 48.6% oppose. How do you pass so big a piece of legislation with approval ratings in the 40% range?
  3. If Reid finds a way to keep 60 Senators onside it will be an example of a political master performance. If he fails it will be the more likely outcome.

    More than anything else, I sense a rising tide of anxiety particularly among people who understand this issue and want a health care bill: Somewhere we lost our way on the road to health care reform and we now find ourselves headed to an entitlement bill that falls far short of achieving universal access and a bill we still can’t afford. This will eventually spill over to mainstream voters already anxious about a trillion dollars in new spending in the midst of an economic crisis.

    That is not the place Democrats would have wanted to be just when they need to overcome what would have been stiff resistance under the best of all circumstances.

    Robert Laszweski has been a fixture in Washington health policy circles for the better part of three decades. He currently serves as the president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates of Alexandria, Virginia. Before forming HPSA in 1992, Robert served as the COO, Group Markets, for the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. You can read more of his thoughtful analysis of healthcare industry trends at The Health Policy and Marketplace Blog, where this post first appeared.

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Medicare and Health Reform: Part II

baucus

By THOMAS GREANEY

In his closing remarks to the Senate Finance Committee last week, Senator Baucus pointed with special pride to the effect the Committee’s reform bill will have on shaping the health care system in the longer run:

One point I want to make… is about delivery system reform.  We are starting here in this bill to finally reform our delivery system so it’s based much more on quality and patient focus, moving ever so slowly, but inexorably, from fee for service….which causes a lot of the waste in our system. We’re not going to see savings, the benefits, to the system for a while… but after four, five, six years from now, we’re going to see the real benefits of reform.Continue reading…

Health Care Outlook Not Improving

 Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mon) released his much-anticipated healthcare proposal Wednesday morning.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mon) released his much-anticipated healthcare proposal Wednesday morning.

The next big test for a health care bill in 2009 (notice that I did not call it health care reform) will come in Senate Finance.

The
final vote in that committee will tell us a lot about whether the
Democrats have any chance for 60 votes in the full Senate. So far, it
does not look good.I have the greatest respect for Senators
Baucus and Grassley and their good faith efforts to find a bipartisan
health care solution. But I also think their efforts were fatally
flawed from the beginning.I think the problem is that Baucus
and Grassley were trying to bridge the wide chasm between liberal and
conservative ideas. Finding the fine balance necessary has created an
unwieldy compromise—no one is happy. Most striking, the compromise
reached between cost and premium subsidies has yielded an $880 billion
bill that requires middle class people to buy health insurance they will in no way will be able to afford. On top of that, the policies have big deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.

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Health Care Outlook Not Improving

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mon) released his much-anticipated healthcare proposal Wednesday morning.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mon) released his much-anticipated healthcare proposal Wednesday.

By ROBERT LASZEWSKI

The next big test for a health care bill in 2009 (notice that I did not call it health care reform) will come in Senate Finance. The final vote in that committee will tell us a lot about whether the Democrats have any chance for 60 votes in the full Senate. So far, it does not look good.

I have the greatest respect for Senators Baucus and Grassley and their good faith efforts to find a bipartisan health care solution. But I also think their efforts were fatally flawed from the beginning.Continue reading…

Senate Healthcare Bill Amendment Allocates Your Tax Dollars To Quacks

With healthcare costs spiraling out of control, and major rationing efforts under consideration – can we really afford to allow purveyors of pseudoscience to use up scarce Medicare/Medicaid resources? It’s hard to imagine that Obama’s administration would approve of extending “health professional” status to people with an online degree and a belief in magic – but a new amendment would allow just that. What happened to our “restoring science to its rightful place” and why are we emphasizing comparative effectiveness research if we will use tax dollars to pay for things that are known to be ineffective?I hope someone reads and removes this amendment pronto (h/t to David Gorski at Science Based Medicine):Here’s the language that Sen. Harkin has slipped into the 615 page Senate version of the health care reform bill:

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