Poised for Health Care Reform

We heard encouraging words from Michael Myers, staff director for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee, chaired by Senator Ted Kennedy, at Families USA's post-election health care briefing:

"With the Obama victory, the question is no longer whether we'll pursue comprehensive healthcare reform, but when and in what form."

Determined to see health care reform come to fruition, Senator Kennedy has wasted no time in convening regular meetings with key stakeholders in the hopes of introducing comprehensive legislation in early January. In an op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post., Kennedy reiterated the urgency for reform:

"...despite the current economic downturn, we must forge ahead with this urgent priority. The system is broken. And it's no longer just patients demanding change. Businesses, doctors and even many insurance companies are demanding it as well."

The specifics of his reform proposal remain under wraps, according to Kennedy's office, but Myers suggested that it will look much like Obama's plan and the Senator will pursue a "single bill" Strategy.

Obama's proposal builds on our current system of health coverage, preserving what works and strengthening aspects of the system that need improvement. Under his plan, workers who are satisfied with their employer-based coverage would keep it. A new National Health Insurance Exchange would enable individuals and businesses to purchase health coverage that's as good as the coverage for members of Congress and other federal employees. His proposal requires that all children have insurance. It would also cap out-of-pocket expenses and regulate insurance companies so that they can no longer cherry-pick the young and healthy and deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Many observers are poised to see reform finally happen. Having learned a thing or two from the last reform efforts in 1993 led by President Clinton, and understanding that reform is not inevitable, many stakeholders (who don't always see eye-to-eye) are searching for common ground. In Congress, staff from three jurisdictional committees -- Finance, Budget, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) -- have met to form working groups to discuss coverage expansion, systems reform, and financing. In addition, Senator Baucus, chair of the Finance Committee, which must approve any legislation before it goes to the Senate floor, is also committed to reform:

"I made sure the finance committee spent this year learning and preparing for action on a comprehensive overhaul of the healthcare system, and I intend for us to move swiftly and decisively with legislation in early 2009."

We'll hear more from Baucus this week when he releases his white paper on health reform.

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