KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Politicians, Stakeholders Look Forward to Health Overhaul Proposals

Details on who wins and who loses in the health care reform debate could come as early as next week as lawmakers ready their reform proposals, Reuters reports in an analysis. "'Everybody's just anxious to know how they're going to start fleshing out the details and making the tough decisions,' said Kim Monk, a health care analyst with Capital Alpha Partners. 'Right now, everything's still on the table.'"

"Some options include creating a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private payers, requiring all Americans to buy some kind of coverage and taxing health benefits now provided to workers by their companies," Reuters reports.

Details will emerge in June, and members of the House and Senate hope to take up the proposals on the floor before the August recess. But some health care providers have seen as much as a 19 percent drop in share value while managed care companies such as Humana Inc., UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint Inc., as well as pharmaceutical companies, having the most at stake. Hospitals, now eating costs because of their care for the uninsured, may have the most to gain.

Congress is also likely to redirect a health industry group's promise to cut health care costs by $2 trillion over 10 years by reducing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, stopping privately-run Medicare plans and providing more preventative medicine.

"Managed care companies have agreed to some market reforms that would require them to cover a wider swath of patients, even sicker ones, in exchange for a mandate requiring healthy consumers to buy a policy.

"Drugmakers have offered broad support for expanded coverage and greater disease prevention but have not made any similar concessions or outlined changes specific to their sector" (Heavey, 5/28).

CNNMoney reports that politicians remain busy wrangling up ideas on how to pay for reform including Medicare tax imposition on state and local government employees, taxing high-sugar and alcoholic drinks, changing Flexible Spending Accounts and taxing employer-provided health benefits - one of the leading ideas.

"It's the costliest tax benefit the government offers, reducing federal tax revenue by $226 billion last year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. And it's a break that many officials, including Obama, say they are reluctant to change," notes CNN.

"How much revenue can be raised is entirely dependent on the option chosen. There are no official estimates available from the Congressional Budget Office yet, but the Tax Policy Center estimates that capping the exclusion at the average cost of health insurance in 2009 ($5,370 for individuals; $13,226 for families) and adjusting that cap for inflation every year could raise $848 billion in revenue over 10 years (Sahadi, 5/28)."

Meanwhile, policy makers and political leaders are voicing opinions on how the plan should take shake.

Rep. Charlie Rangel, D- N.Y., said the reform won't pass the House unless it has a government-paid public plan to insure consumers, Bloomberg reports. "(Rangel) said a public plan is essential to compete with private insurers and hold down medical costs. A Senate proposal that doesn't contain the public option is 'totally unacceptable,' (said) the New York Democrat, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in an interview (Wednesday)." But Republicans are unlikely to accept a public plan option, said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the party's No. 2 leader in the chamber, in a telephone interview (Nussbaum, 5/27).

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean also called for a public plan and likened such a plan to Medicare in comments made Wednesday during a town hall meeting in Denver, The Denver Post reports. But, Dean said, "Americans also should have the option of keeping their private insurance. 'All people get nervous about change,' he said to about 300 people gathered at First Unitarian Church east of downtown. 'If you like what you have, you can keep it,' he said." And in an interview with the newspaper, "Dean said he doubts the United States would ever end up in a single-payer health care system without a private insurance option (Brown, 5/27)."

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Wednesday that Congress will pass a reform plan that will cover all Americans by the end of the year, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. "'Americans know the challenges to our health-care system, our economy and our nation are too big for opponents of health-care reform to just say no,' Brown said, noting the defeat of previous plans. 'Staying the course of a broken system is simply no longer an option (Feran, 5/27).'"

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., said he'd support a single-payer system for health care, but doesn't believe it has support, WCCN in Wisconsin reports.

"'I don't think a single-payer system could possibly pass in the Congress at this time,' Feingold said, 'I don't even know if it would be my first choice. I think a little better approach would be to pass a law guaranteeing every American has to be covered (Knoff, 5/27).'"

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