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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 7, 2007 2:07 AM. The previous post in this blog was "What are we doing with Libby? Where's Rove?". The next post in this blog is The feds show up. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Wyden on health care: We're on the "cusp" of change

Ron Wyden's all over it these days. He's got an income tax reform plan, and now he's spearheading a bipartisan group looking to make a push in the health care arena. Yesterday he told a Federation of American Hospitals conference that Congress is on the "cusp of a very big breakthrough" in the debate over reforming the healthcare system.

A gang of 10 senators, five from each party, recently sent a letter to the White House on the subject. In addition to Wyden, the letter was signed by Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Robert Bennett (R-UT), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Trent Lott (R-MS), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Herb Kohl (D-WI) and John Thune (R-SD). It said:

Dear Mr. President:

As U.S. Senators of both political parties we would like to work with you and your Administration to fix the American health care system.

Each of us believes our current health system needs to be fixed now. Further delay is unacceptable as costs continue to skyrocket, our population ages, and chronic illness increases. In addition, our businesses are at a severe disadvantage when their competitors in the global market get health care for "free."

We would like to work with you and your Administration to pass legislation in this Congress that would:

1) Ensure that all Americans would have affordable, quality, private health coverage, while protecting current government programs. We believe the health care system cannot be fixed without providing solutions for everyone. Otherwise, the costs of those without insurance will continue to be shifted to those who do have coverage.

2) Modernize Federal tax rules for health coverage. Democratic and Republican economists have convinced us that the current rules disproportionately favor the most affluent, while promoting inefficiency.

3) Create more opportunities and incentives for states to design health solutions for their citizens. Many state officials are working in their state legislatures to develop fresh, creative strategies for improving health care, and we believe any legislation passed in this Congress should not stymie that innovation.

4) Take steps to create a culture of wellness through prevention strategies, rather than perpetuating our current emphasis on sick care. For example, Medicare Part A pays thousands of dollars in hospital expenses, while Medicare Part B provides no incentives for seniors to reduce blood pressure or cholesterol. Employers, families, and all our constituents want emphasis on prevention and wellness.

5) Encourage more cost-effective chronic and compassionate end-of-life care. Studies show that an increase in health care spending does not always mean an increase in quality of outcomes. All Americans should be empowered to make decisions about their end of life care, not be forced into hospice care without other options. We hope to work with you on policies that address these issues.

6) Improve access to information on price and quality of health services. Today, consumers have better access to information about the price and quality of washing machines than on the price and quality of health services.

We disagree with those who say the Senate is too divided and too polarized to pass comprehensive health care legislation. We disagree with those who believe that this issue should not come up until after the next presidential election. We disagree with those who want to wait when the American people are saying, loud and clear, "We want to fix health care now."

We look forward to working with you in a bipartisan manner in the days ahead.

Cantwell and Lott on the same letter -- wow.

Well, the polls have spoken. America's ready for moderate to heavy health care restructuring. But the Kaiser docs and the Providence nuns and the Merck weasels and Blue Cross will all be out to stop it. I can't imagine that anything serious is going to happen until we're rid of Bush. But come 1/22/09, we could be talking some real changes.

In the meantime, item no. 2 in the letter will please W. It's code for making you pay income tax on health insurance purchased for you by your employer, if it's any good. That's the Republican Wyden talking. But the rest of it is pretty hard to argue with.

Comments (9)

Of course, another option would be for the Democratic Congress to pass what it thinks is right, send it up to the White House, and let the Chimp veto it. But that takes more guts than may be necessary.

For lots of info about Wyden's health plan, come on over to StandTallForAmerica.com.

Full disclosure - I'm building that site for Senator Wyden.

Oh, and we're flipping the switch on a redesign later today. If you see blue, it's still the old site. If you see green and orange, it's the new one. Stay tuned.

It's interesting. On the one hand, Wyden has a very specific plan, and yet he's flexible enough to get a number of groups involved to work on a solution that might end up looking quite different. That does put him in a very visible position.

Wyden has always been pushing the envelope on health policy issues, and trying to do so in a bipartisan way. Back in 1999, he was pushing a Medicare drug benefit that he co-authored with Bill Thomas (R-CA) that looked a lot like the plan that the Republicans pushed through a few years later, but without all the design flaws. He seems like he genuinely wants to make progress on health issues, even if the ultimate outcome is more conservative that he would prefer.

The political downside is that his approach alienates his party. It's pretty commonly known in DC that as a result of his teaming up with Thomas, Wyden was denied a spot on the Senate Finance Committee by his party leadership, until Sen. Reid relented in 2005.

I actually don't think it's Bush that will stand in the way of health reform, it's the Democratic party leadership that wants to deny Bush any chance at a legacy on domestic issues (they're willing to let him have his foreign policy "legacy", for what it's worth). It's too bad, because the last two years of an Administration are a great time to actually find some middle ground.

we're flipping the switch on a redesign later today.

Make that tomorrow. That'll teach me to make promises on a blog.

At least Wyden seems to recognize that most calls for national health care are a recipe for disaster. If you like what's going on at Walter Reed, you'll love national health care.

You commented on item #2,"it's code for making you pay income tax on health insurance..." You may be right, but I didn't read it that way when I first went through. If Wyden is referring to the itemized deductions on Sch. A, lines 1-4, of your federal individual tax return, I'd have to agree. How many average income earners will ever be able to recover deductibles and other health care costs not covered by insurance based on the 7.5% of AGI rule? That rule does "favor the most affluent."

It has always seemed to me that, for humanity's sake, if we won't provide basic health care for our people, we should at least allow the uninsured to itemize the costs they have to endure themselves. You can recover long-term capital losses on pink sheet stocks practically in perpetuity, but if your child has a rare disease and you are forced to spend your life savings to save her, well you're crap out-of-luck.

Just fixing the Sch. A medical expense deduction ruse would be a huge improvement. At least then the average American worker could get some tax relief from cost crisis in health care.

" If you like what's going on at Walter Reed, you'll love national health care."

Now, that's pretty silly. Actually, the VA, until the Bush administration got its hands on it, was outstanding, and much of it still is. Moreover, as bad as Walter Reed may be, it's probably a notch or two better than LA and NY hospitals in the private sector dumping sick, indigent patients on the sidewalk.

I don't think anyone is talking about government hospital and clinics. They're talking about heavy regulation of the various industries involved, especially insurance, so that the profit-taking comes down from the utter rip-off level we have now to something merely obscene.


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