Democrats' health overhaul efforts are stalled in Congress, but President Obama's 2011 budget offers a "modest" back-up plan, the Associated Press reports. "The budget released Monday contains lots of respectable ideas to squeeze savings, expand coverage and improve quality, but no ambitious change that launches the nation on a path to health care for all." Those efforts include increased resources for health care fraud prevention, more help for state Medicaid programs, funding for community health centers, and pilot projects to improve care in the Medicare program. Including automatic spending on the Medicare, Medicaid and other mandatory programs, the budget totals more than $900 billion for health care (Alonso-Zaldivar, 2/1). The Wall Street Journal reports that, while in some ways, the president "did not assume fast passage of the health bill, " his budget "includes a line for 'health insurance reform' based on the average budget impact of the versions of the health bill the House and Senate passed last year.
News outlets report on a patient's struggle to get coverage for cancer treatment and over-burdened charity clinics. The New York Times has a 'Neediest Cases' series profile. "Rashidam Shakirova moved from Atlanta to New York in 2008 so she could earn more as a home health-care aide - $9 an hour instead of $7." At her new job, Shakirova was told health coverage would begin three months after her start date. During that time, she discovered a lump in her breast. She sought treatment at the end of the three months "but learned that application had not been processed. She waited three more months, until March, to be added to the rolls of Atlantis Health Plan. ... Once coverage started, Ms. Shakirova, 56, was tested, and a biopsy found an aggressive cancer. Ms. Shakirova's doctor urged immediate surgery. But Atlantis suspected the cancer was a pre-existing condition. Thus began Ms. Shakirova's months-long effort to win coverage" (Barnard, 1/28). Dallas Morning News : "As President Barack Obama continues the quest for an overhaul of the health care system, charity clinics bear increasing loads.
President Obama's State of the Union speech has so far failed to unite Democrats on a health reform strategy as they "stared down a political nightmare, " The Associated Press reports. "The grim reality opened a divide between the rank and file and congressional leaders, who insisted health care would get done, even though last week's special election in Massachusetts denied Democrats the 60-vote majority they need to deliver in the Senate. Many Democrats saw a problem with no clear solution" (Werner, 1/29). Politico "Democrats in Congress said all the right things Thursday to show they were dutifully heeding the president's call to keep plugging away on a health reform bill. But listen more closely, and it's clear health care is already falling to the back of the legislative line... " And Democrats seemed "as confused and divided" after the State of the Union speech as they were before. But "congressional aides say there is a legitimate process under way to find a way to finish the job on health care" (Budoff Brown, 1/28).
Journalism researchers criticized media coverage of the health care bills saying it may have added to consumers' confusion, Health News Florida reports. "Very little broadcast time or print space has been devoted to explaining, point-by-point, the major parts of the legislation, say three top researchers in the field from University of Florida, Florida State University and University of South Florida. ... With a few exceptions -including the New York Times and National Public Radio - 'the news media haven't done a great job of covering the health care reform debates, ' said Kim Walsh-Childers, UF journalism professor. (Disclosure: She is a member of Health News Florida's board of directors.) Walsh-Childers said many Americans get their information from talk radio or blogs, 'which are far less likely to provide balanced, complete information than are traditional news outlets, especially newspapers'" (Gentry, 1/29). Meanwhile, NPR offer an expert view on a different topic: the current legislative state of reform efforts and the specifics of budget reconciliation, a budget procedure that some lawmakers have suggested to help get the health overhaul passed because it eliminates the threat of a veto in the Senate.
Employers offering wellness and preventive health programs can sometimes run afoul of a new anti-discrimination law restricting their ability to ask workers about family medical histories, The Wall Street Journal reports. "Many employers offer workers cash incentives or insurance-premium reductions to fill out health surveys and some use that information to offer health advice or direct at-risk employees to disease-management programs. But the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which took effect last year, restricts employers' and health insurers' ability to collect and disclose genetic information." This restriction not only applies to genetic-test results, but family medical histories. "Some employers say the law is stymieing their efforts to promote employee wellness because it bars them from offering workers financial incentives to complete health surveys that ask about family history." In general, the law is designed to prevent "insurers and employers from using genetic information for coverage and employment decisions" (Tuna, 2/1).
Conservative lawmakers in 34 states "are forging ahead with constitutional amendments to ban government health insurance mandates" despite the idling health reform measures in Congress, The Associated Press reports. "The proposals would assert a state-based right for people to pay medical bills from their own pocketbooks and prohibit penalties against those who refuse to carry health insurance." The legality of such legislation is being questioned, however, as "courts generally have held that federal laws trump those in states." Bills in Congress would impose penalties on those who don't purchase health insurance except in cases of financial hardship. Under the legislation, "(s)ubsidies would be provided to low-income and middle-income households" (Lieb, 2/1). The (Washington) Examiner reports that in Virginia such proposals - "which have advanced in committee or subcommittee in both the Virginia House and Senate - look to exempt Virginia from Congress' health care initiatives. While the measures may end up being more symbolic than substantive, they have gained wide notice as Republican lawmakers seek to harness unrest over an expanded federal role in medical care" (Flook, 2/1).
Democratic leaders have confirmed that health reform discussions are ongoing, despite the loss of their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, CQ Today reports (Wayne, CQ Today, 1/29). Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Thursday said that health reform "rested for about a week, " but "it's not dead" (Drucker, Roll Call, 2/1). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday said, "I had a conversation with [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)] today. We're moving forward" with reform but "haven't determined" how to do so. "That's why we're still communicating, " he said (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/29). According to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, Democrats are "inside the five-yard line" in attempting to pass health reform legislation (Johnson, " Blog Briefing Room, " The Hill, 1/31). Appearing on " Fox News Sunday, " Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said, "We're still looking at a way to do comprehensive legislation, " adding that "certain provisions have to be dropped out" (Hooper, The Hill, 1/31).
"Proponents of reform have lost control over the message because people think it's too complicated to understand. Confused about important details of the proposals, the public is susceptible to misrepresentations by opponents, " CBS News reports. For instance, in his State of the Union address Wednesday, President Barack Obama noted that the Congressional Budget Office has found the Democrats' overhaul legislation would ultimately reduce the deficit by up to $1 trillion. But, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll indicates "only fifteen percent of the public believe the current proposed health care reform legislation will reduce the deficit" (LaPook, 1/28). In a fact check of the address, NPR addresses that claim that the CBO says the overhaul could save $1 trillion. Correspondent Julie Rovner notes that the legislation could have a greater impact in its second decade, assuming its passed, but that actual savings would depend on many factors. "The CBO and others have suggested that Congress might not actually have the stomach for some of the cuts that might be called for by this commission [which would be created by the overhaul to lower Medicare costs].
Legislative leaders in search of momentum on health reform "conceded that they did not have an immediate strategy for advancing a health care measure and described their time frame as open-ended, " The New York Times reports. "Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at a news conference in the Capitol, said House Democrats had begun exploring the possibility of breaking out pieces of the comprehensive bill they passed in November and moving forward on smaller measures. 'It means, we will move on many fronts, any front we can, ' Ms. Pelosi said. 'We'll go through the gate. If the gate's closed, we'll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we'll pole-vault in. If that doesn't work, we'll parachute in. But we're going to get health care reform passed for the American people, for their own personal health and economic security, and for the important role that it will play in reducing the deficit.'" One of the first measures that could move as a stand-alone reform proposal could be to eliminate the antitrust exemption for health insurance companies (Herszenhorn and Pear, 1/28).
In a press conference on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that House leaders plan to introduce smaller-scale health reform legislation that can win quick approval before the chamber recesses on Feb. 11, CQ Today reports. However, the legislation -- which might consist of multiple bills -- would not pre-empt a larger, more comprehensive reform package like the one currently stalled in House-Senate negotiations, Pelosi said. "Some things we can do on the side, " she said, adding, "But it's not a substitute for comprehensive reform" (Epstein, CQ Today, 1/28). According to the New York Times, the first small-scale bill that could be proposed would eliminate the exemption of health insurance companies from federal antitrust law. The House bill ( HR 3962 ) includes the provision, but the Senate bill ( HR 3590 ) does not (Herszenhorn/Pear, New York Times, 1/29). Pelosi said that negotiations will continue, though she declined to give a timetable for reaching a deal, CQ Today reports.