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The Latest News On Healthcare Reform

January 27, 2010
Source: www.humana.com

Obama's first State of the Union

The feeling in Washington is that a decision on how to proceed on health care probably won't be made until after the President's State of the Union address tonight at 9 p.m. EST. That speech will be carried on all of the major TV networks and cable news channels, and, as USA today put it, "could hardly come at a more critical time for a president grappling with double-digit unemployment, sinking poll numbers and the possible collapse of his top domestic policy priority, an overhaul of the nation's health care system."

The speech is still being written, but one senior White House official told the New York Times that the themes would include "creating good jobs, addressing the deficit, helping the middle class and changing Washington." Apparently President Obama will propose modest initiatives to help middle class families, "including tax credits for child care, caps on some student loan payments and a requirement that companies let workers save automatically for retirement," the Times said.

It is not known what the President will say about health reform. He has frequently connected the need to reform the health care system with the broader issues of strengthening the economy and helping middle class families. So he is likely to continue to make that connection tonight.

Dazed and confused in D.C.

A week after the Massachusetts special election to fill Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat, it's hard to know what the future of health care reform will be. There's a lot of disagreement in the wake of Republican Scott Brown's win in this dependably Democratic state: How did it happen? Who – or what – is to blame? What were the voters saying with their surprising vote?

Meanwhile, since most Democrats agree that the comprehensiveness of the bill was a major factor in their defeat, they have been trying to devise a new strategy for health reform. Last weekend, the President called members of Congress to talk about ways to move the issue forward. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been counting votes and continuing to negotiate to make the Senate bill more palatable for the House.

But no one knows if a sufficient number of Democratic members of Congress have the "stomach" or the "guts," as various pundits have put it, to move forward with such an ambitious plan. And so there's a lot of talk in Washington about taking a more modest, incremental approach to reform. It might include such provisions as incentives for small businesses to help their employees buy insurance, cost controls and some rule changes in the ways insurance companies do business. But there's not a lot of public discussion about universal coverage.

As Valerie Jarrett, an advisor to the President, said on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, the administration is working with members of Congress to determine "what the climate is, what's the art of the possible." On the other hand, another White House advisor, David Axelrod, has been outspoken that the President wants a strong bill. "The President will not walk away from the American people, will not hand them over to the tender mercies of health insurance companies, who take advantage" of them, he said on several Sunday news shows. "I think people want action on health care. The foolish thing would be for anybody else who supported this to walk away from it."

Also over the weekend, David Plouffe, who was President Obama's campaign manager and returned as an advisor to the White House political team after the Massachusetts election, wrote in the Washington Post that he believes it's important that Democrats "pass a meaningful health insurance reform package without delay….I know that the short-term politics are bad," he said. "But politically speaking, if we do not pass it, the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway, and voters will have no ability to measure its upside."

But the reality is it will take either 218 House members and 60 senators to pass a new version of a comprehensive bill – or 218 House members to pass the version the Senate passed on December 24. And the votes aren't there today to do either of those things.

Yet, as Delos Cosgrove, chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic, told a columnist for the Washington Post, there is a growing consensus that the system must be fixed. "I don't think any of the players are happy with the status quo," said Dr. Cosgrove.

Since 2008, for example, the health insurance industry has been on record for favoring reform, including reforms that would transform the way we do business.

Therefore, it's more likely than not that despite the "Boston Massacre," as Scott Brown's victory is being called, some version of health reform still will be passed. But after a week of Congress and the President looking at various scenarios, the contents of that bill and the process that would be used to advance it remain unknown.

Polls up to our ears

Of interest: several new polls in the last week.

A CNN poll released Monday says:

  • For the first time since the Democratic takeover of Congress, more Americans say Democratic control of Congress is bad for the country. The poll found that 48 percent of American adults say it's "bad for the country that the Democratic Party is in control of Congress," versus only 45 percent who say it's good
  • It also found that "7 in 10 Americans believe that the Democrats' loss of their 60 seat supermajority in the Senate is a positive move for the country." Read the poll results here.

According to a USA Today/Gallup Poll:

  • "A majority of Americans say President Obama and congressional Democrats should suspend work on the health care bill that has been on the verge of passage and consider alternatives that would draw more Republican support."
  • An overwhelming 72 percent of those surveyed say the Bay State result "reflects frustrations shared by many Americans, and the President and members of Congress should pay attention to it." Eighteen percent say it "reflects political conditions in Massachusetts and doesn't have a larger meaning for national politics."
  • 55 percent call for Democrats to go back to the drawing board for a more bipartisan proposal while 39 percent say they should continue to work on the current bill
  • One in three says health care should be the top priority now. Forty-six percent say that health care is important but that there are other problems they should address first; 19 percent say health care shouldn't be a major priority
    Read the poll results here.

A Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University School of Public Health poll found: "Health care topped jobs and the economy as the most important issue driving Massachusetts voter," the Washington Post said.
Read the rest of the results of the poll here.

And a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that although Americans are divided about health reform proposals overall, individuals become more supportive when told about actual provisions:

"Majorities reported feeling more favorable toward the proposed legislation after learning about many of the key elements, with the notable exceptions of the individual mandate and the overall price tag," the poll concluded.

Kaiser president and CEO Drew Altman said, "It's one thing to talk about the public's perception of health care reform legislation, which right now is in some ways negative, but it's another to tell people what's actually in the bill, and when you do that people are more positive."

Get involved. Contact Congress about health reform at MyHealthReform.org.

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