White House Office of Health Reform Director DeParle Says She Is Optimistic About Health System Overhaul This Year
At an American Hospital Association conference on Monday, White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle said that she is optimistic about the prospect of passing comprehensive health care reform this year, CongressDaily reports. "The momentum is on our side," and "[o]ld foes have come to the table and are prepared to make progress," she said (Kivlan, CongressDaily, 4/27).
According to DeParle, "We have an electorate that is demanding nothing less than a comprehensive plan to cut costs and insure all Americans." She added that the White House has received "tens of thousands" of telephone calls and e-mails from supporters of President Obama's health reform agenda (Young, The Hill, 4/27). DeParle also said that the White House would be committed to stopping private insurers from denying affordable coverage to U.S. residents with pre-existing conditions, saying the practice constitutes "rationing medical care, pure and simple" (CongressDaily, 4/27).
In discussing whether a government-run health insurance option would be included in reform legislation, DeParle said that there will be "a vigorous, healthy debate about elements of the plan, including the merits of a public option plan." Many Republicans, hospitals and medical providers are concerned that a public plan would achieve savings through reduced payments to providers, and that those savings could be used to undermine the private health insurance industry. Eventually, opponents say, most U.S. residents would be enrolled in the public plan. The Obama administration disputes that scenario, saying that people will be able to maintain their current health coverage and that most people are enrolled in employer-sponsored plans (The Hill, 4/27).
Public Plan Advocates, Opponents Step Up Efforts
In related news, advocates for a single-payer health care system plan are stepping up their lobbying efforts, Politico reports. According to Politico, "Their strategy is simple: By pushing hard for single-payer health care, a robust public insurance option ends up looking like a compromise Democrats could accept." Two groups advocating a single-payer system -- the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee -- last week launched an online advertising campaign targeting the five Democratic committee chairs writing health care reform legislation. In addition, single-payer advocates are expected to hold a rally at the Capitol on May 13. Earlier this month, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saying that they support a single-payer system but that health care reform legislation should include "a public plan option, at minimum," because otherwise a "strong majority" of the caucus will oppose the legislation (Budoff Brown, Politico, 4/28).
Meanwhile, an array of powerful business groups that serve on the steering committee for the National Coalition on Benefits last week sent a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) expressing "grave reservations" about creating a public insurance option. The letter states, "A 'public plan' option administered by the federal government is inherently destabilizing to the employer-based health insurance benefit," as it "cannot operate on a level playing field and compete fairly if it acts as both a payer and a regulator." The letter was signed by groups including the Business Roundtable, the American Benefits Council, the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Business Group on Health, the National Retail Federation and the ERISA Industry Committee (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 4/27).
Cancer Society To Spend $3M on Health Reform Campaign
Officials from the Cancer Action Network, the lobbying body of the American Cancer Society, on Monday announced that the network will spend $3 million over the next four to five months on the organization's largest ever public policy campaign to push for overhaul of the U.S. health care system, CongressDaily reports. Daniel Smith, president of the network, said that the campaign will focus primarily on grassroots mobilization, advertising, and ensuring that overhaul legislation "serves cancer patients well." The group is calling for the expansion of adequate, affordable health coverage, enhancing preventive care coverage, and funding such reforms through a federal tobacco tax as high as $1.40 per pack (Edney, CongressDaily, 4/27).
Key Players Lay Out Health Reform Efforts
- Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.): Boustany, a member of the 21-member Republican health reform task force, told CongressDaily last week that he is pushing for the group to introduce health care reform legislation by Memorial Day, in an effort to "beat the Democrats to the punch." According to Boustany, the group agreed last week on five health care overhaul principles that will be reviewed by Republican leaders. In addition, the group has developed a draft with more specific solutions to improving health care, but it has not been finalized (Edney, CongressDaily, 4/28).
- Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa): Harkin recently said in an interview with CQ HealthBeat that he is working to draft legislation that puts greater emphasis on the role of preventive care and "integrative health," in which providers coordinate care on patients' physical, mental and emotional health. Harkin said, "Prevention has to be incorporated in how we extend coverage, how we reform the payment system." He called for private insurers, Medicare and Medicaid to provide better coverage and reimbursement rates for effective preventive health measures and the establishment of a tax credit for businesses that offer wellness programs (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 4/27).