It looks increasingly likely that the new Congress will consider major health care reform legislation upon reconvening in January.
Judging by the proposals that have already been released, the legislation will aim primarily to provide universal insurance coverage. The proposals are modeled after the controversial universal coverage legislation adopted by Massachusetts in 2006.
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Over the past few weeks, Democratic congressional leaders have signaled their intention to make health care reform a top priority as soon as President-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated into office.
- Senator Baucus presented a blueprint to guarantee health insurance for all Americans by expanding Medicaid and Medicare, facilitating the sales of private insurance and requiring employers to provide or pay for health benefits.
- Upon returning to the Senate for the first time since July, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Kennedy announced his intention to “lay the ground work for early action by Congress on health reform when President Obama takes office in January.”
But some critics argue that comprehensive reform is still unlikely, due to:
- The inability of legislators to agree on the particulars of any reform plan, including how it will be financed.
- The recession, and the limits it will place on the federal government when it comes to program spending.
In response to these concerns, it looks like most democratic lawmakers are lining up behind the Baucus guidelines.
- Included in this group of supporters is President-elect Obama, who campaigned on a similar plan.
Analysts also suggest that Mr. Obama’s pick of Senator Tom Daschle for secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicates that the President-elect is serious about overhauling the health care system.
- Mr. Daschle recently published a book called “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis.” Daschle is praised by his peers as someone who can get things done in Congress.
And the conventional wisdom about government spending and the recession is shifting. As the recession deepens, Mr. Obama is said to be considering additional “stimulus spending.”
Rather than just providing a bailout for companies or a tax refund for individuals, the additional stimulus package would be used to fund domestic programs, including a comprehensive health care reform initiative. Such spending would create jobs now and offer a return on investment in the long-run.
Given these indicators, it is safe to say that movement on comprehensive health reform legislation is likely in the near future.
Since we don’t yet know all of the particulars of the reform legislation, including how it will be financed, it is difficult to analyze what the outcome will be and how much it will cost.
We do know that, as of now, lawmakers are considering:
- Mandating that individuals buy coverage;
- Expanding Medicare, to allow individuals age 55 to 64 to buy insurance through the program if they are not eligible for insurance through another program or through their place of employment;
- Expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover children in families with incomes at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) (which is higher than the income level in half of the states with SCHIP);
- Making Medicaid available to everyone with incomes below the FPL, which would reduce the ranks of the uninsured by 7 million people.
- Mandating that employers of a certain size carry health insurance for their employees.
In other words, they are considering adopting a plan with many of the same provisions as the Massachusetts’ universal coverage plan.
In this As We See It article, we examine the pros and cons of the Massachusetts’ plan in-depth to find out what we can learn from this state experiment.