USA Today reports that "Democratic leaders say [Mass. Republican Scott] Brown's win hasn't killed the $1 trillion health care bill, " but after a series of meetings Wednesday they still had no "clear plan for how to proceed." Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, says the best option would be to have the House pass the Senate's version of the health bill, which would eliminate the need for the Senate to vote on the bill again, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., says the strategy might work, although it could be difficult. "Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., is more blunt: 'I don't think it's a viable strategy.' Some Republicans say the White House still could get a health care bill passed if it returns to the drawing board" (Page, Fritze and Kiely, 1/21). Two legislative strategies have moved to the forefront, Roll Call reports. "In one scenario, Democrats would push a second bill through using budget reconciliation rules that would 'fix' the Senate health care bill sitting on the House's desk.
News reports ruminated Wednesday on a key question: How did the Massachusetts Senate seat left behind by Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy fall into Republican hands? "[M]uch of the explanation of Republicans' Massachusetts miracle surely lies in two giant factors: an economy that is largely beyond Democrats' control, and a failure to close out a health-care debate that certainly has been within their control, " according to The Wall Street Journal's Capital Journal (Seib, 1/20). "Scott Brown's opposition to congressional health care legislation was the most important issue that fueled his U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts, according to exit poll data collected following the Tuesday special election, " Politico reports. The poll was conducted by a Republican firm; no news organizations conducted independent exit polls for this election (Catanese, 1/20). Just how central the health reform issue was to Tuesday election, however, "was difficult to gauge, " The New York Times reports. "That is because Massachusetts already has near-universal health coverage, thanks to a law passed when Mitt Romney, a Republican, was governor.
Los Angeles Times : "California's largest health insurer is teaming with hospitals and doctors throughout the state to better share ways to improve patient safety and cut costs, leaders of the initiative said Tuesday. ... Woodland Hills-based Anthem Blue Cross is contributing $6 million toward" a series of knowledge-sharing meetings over the next three years (Helfand, 1/20). The Kansas City Star : "Missouri lawmakers Tuesday began debating legislation that would require state-regulated health insurers - roughly 40 percent of the private market - to cover diagnosis and therapy of autism spectrum disorders" (Noble, 1/19). The Dallas Morning News : "With a booming health care market and no check on hospital growth, Texas looked ripe for more rehabilitation hospitals. "But Dallas-based Reliant Healthcare Partners' plan to build 13 of the niche hospitals in Texas might turn out to have one major problem: It recruited physicians as investors." If a health reform bill passes Congress pass, it "would halt the growth of physician-owned hospitals and prevent any more from opening after Aug.
The Washington Times : The American Society of News Editors on Tuesday joined C-SPAN in calling for "more openness and transparency" on health care reform. "The group - which represents high-profile leaders of multimedia news organizations, journalism school deans and First Amendment experts - criticized what it called 'back-room negotiations' over health care that should take place in full, open committee proceedings." The group says public trust is at stake. "Mr. Obama the candidate had promised that under his administration, such discussions would take place in the open, to prevent Washington back-door horse-trading. The White House has since backed away from that" (Harper, 1/20). James Rainey, in a column in the Los Angeles Times, suggests that tension "between the press and the Obama administration has peaked in part because of the candidate's bold promises about being more open. As the president's popularity has declined, some reporters have sensed the already reserved leader pulling back even more.
News reports explore remaining issues in Congress' health overhaul negotiations. The Associated Press : "Although disabled workers can expect improvements, the legislation moving toward final passage in Congress doesn't deliver the clean fix that advocates for people with serious medical conditions hoped for. Some of the neediest could find themselves still in limbo." A two-year waiting period to enter Medicare is at issue (Alonso-Zaldivar, 1/18). Los Angeles Times : When Democrats began their health overhaul effort last year, trial lawyers thought they may face hard times ahead. "But after a massive lobbying campaign and party-line votes in Congress, the malpractice system is largely untouched by the Democrats' healthcare overhaul. Drug makers and the insurance industry, in contrast, were forced to make costly concessions" (Hamburger and Oliphant, 1/19). Bloomberg reports that in the midst of this election challenge, divides also remain among Democrats in Congress. "While negotiators last week settled one central issue - curbing a tax on high-value insurance plans - House and Senate Democrats are split over other areas as they seek a compromise on their bills.
Democrats are considering several courses of action to pass a health care reform bill if Massachusetts Senate hopeful Democrat Martha Coakley loses to Republican Scott Brown in a special election Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports. "White House and Senate Democratic officials said Monday that they believed asking the House to pass the Senate health bill unchanged was likely to be their best hope if their party loses a Senate seat in Massachusetts. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office signaled Monday that the House wouldn't go along with that, and the bill's fate dimmed." Democratic aides say this scenario would be "difficult to pull off. House liberals oppose the key differences in the Senate version: a tax on high-end insurance plans and less generous assistance to help low-income Americans buy insurance. " Another option: Trying to move the bill through the Senate using reconciliation, a parliamentary procedure that requires only 51 votes for passage, instead of the 60 votes "that a typical bill needs to block a filibuster.
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, writes about how a Virginia family got permission to get out-of-network treatment for one son's heart defect, and still ended up drowning in debt. "For patients who voluntarily chose an independent caregiver over in-network options, the additional bills, while often unwelcome, are generally considered justifiable. But consumer advocates want the government to protect people who unwittingly end up out of network because of an emergency, such as when they are taken to the nearest hospital after a car crash; or who get an insurer's permission to see a specialist out of network; or who were unknowingly treated by out-of-network doctors while at an in-network facility. The Lemackses fell into the last two of those three categories (Rau, 1/19). Read entire article. Watch the related video. This information was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with kind permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders on Thursday reached a tentative agreement on a proposal to tax high-cost insurance plans, making progress on one of the major differences between the Senate and House health care reform bills ( HR 3590, HR 3962 ), the New York Times reports (Pear/Greenhouse, New York Times, 1/15). However, negotiators must continue to work to resolve several other differences, including the issue of abortion coverage under federally subsidized insurance plans, USA Today reports. According to USA Today, the Senate bill would allow federally subsidized insurance plans to offer abortion coverage but would require people to pay a separate premium to cover the procedure. The House version of the bill would not allow women using federal subsidies to purchase insurance that covers abortion services (Fritze, USA Today, 1/15). House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said negotiators have not yet discussed that issue. Other issues that need to be resolved include whether the proposed health insurance exchanges would be set up nationally or state-based, the size of the federal subsidies that will be offered to people and the implementation date, CongressDaily reports.
Los Angeles Times : "The White House and labor leaders agreed Thursday on a formula to tax high-cost insurance plans, removing one of the last obstacles to President Obama's healthcare overhaul, officials said." Organized labor had staunchly opposed the proposed "Cadillac" tax, but as part of the agreement, "reached after an intense round of negotiations this week, union leaders dropped their opposition ... in exchange for concessions to limit its scope." Under the compromise, the threshold for family plans subject to the tax would be increased from $23, 000 to $24, 000. The cost of dental and vision plans would be exempt. Based on the agreement, a 40% excise tax would be applied to "individual healthcare plans valued at $8, 900 or more and family plans worth $24, 000" (Hook and Levey, 1/15). The New York Times : The "negotiations produced changes to a tax included in the bill passed by the Senate last month. The changes would lessen and delay the impact of the tax on workers and would reduce the amount of revenue collected.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) and state Sen. Scott Brown (R) are statistically tied in their race for the U.S. Senate seat previously held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D), according to a Suffolk University poll, Roll Call reports. The survey polled likely voters from Monday to Wednesday, finding Brown with 50% of the vote and Coakley with 46%. However, with a 4.4 percentage point margin of error, the two candidates are in a statistical tie, according to the poll. Third-party candidate Joseph Kennedy -- no relation to the late senator -- drew 3% of the vote, and 1% of voters said they remained undecided (Cadei, Roll Call, 1/15). A poll released by the Boston Globe last Sunday showed Coakley with a 15-point edge over Brown. The special election takes place Tuesday (Johnson, AP/Boston Globe, 1/15). The Coakley campaign is hoping to mobilize the same female voters who helped her triumph in the Democratic primary. To that end, her campaign frequently mentions her support for abortion rights.