Baucus Questions Whether CMS Is Equipped To Overhaul MedicareSenate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Thursday questioned whether CMS could handle a massive overhaul of the Medicare system and suggested that a new entity might be better suited to take on the effort, CQ HealthBeat reports.
During a confirmation hearing for William Corr, President Obama's choice for deputy secretary of HHS, Baucus said, "There are some very, very thoughtful people in health care who really, seriously, wonder if CMS is up to the job," adding that "there's some question whether they are able to develop the designs and putting new programs together as opposed to just implementing old programs." He raised the prospect of creating a separate entity to work alongside CMS that would be tasked with designing possible changes such as bundling payments for services, or developing accountable care organizations and the medical home concept.
Corr said, "It begins also with leadership and I think Secretary Sebelius intends to bring in outstanding leaders to the department, to CMS," continuing, "I hope within several months that when you make that assessment again, you will be able to say different things about the direction CMS is moving in" (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 4/30).
In related news, Baucus on Thursday said that a major obstacle in formulating health care reform legislation is the difficulty Congressional Budget Office actuaries are having scoring savings in proposals he has submitted. The difficulty is partly because of the fact that many proposals are new concepts without economic data and in other cases are concepts that almost everyone believes will lower spending. However, CBO's scoring rules will not allow for savings-friendly analysis. Baucus said that he is urging CBO to indicate savings where it can, adding, "Otherwise, health care reform is in jeopardy" (Armstrong, CQ Today, 4/30).
Obama's Personal Experience Influences Health Reform Debate
In related news, the New York Times on Friday examined how Obama is comfortable using his personal history when discussing health reform. For instance, Obama in an interview for New York Times Magazine discussed end-of-life care spending, using his recently deceased grandmother, who received hip replacement surgery, as an example. Critics have used the example to make the case for why Obama's reform plan would lead to health care rationing, but others have suggested that the president has illustrated the trade-offs needed for curbing health care spending.
Obama said, "There is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, and ethicists," and "then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place." He added that it "is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through normal political channels" (Baker, New York Times, 5/1).
Summaries of recent news articles about additional health reform developments appear below.
- Republicans: Some Republican leaders on Thursday announced a series of nationwide campaign-style events to tout and develop policy ideas on key issues, including health care, the Washington Post reports. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the project, called the National Council for a New America, is "an effort to engage the American people in a conversation" (Bacon, Washington Post, 5/1).
Families USA/Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America: This year's major health reform efforts "really might prove different" than past attempts, as longtime adversaries, such as Families USA and PhRMA, are starting to join forces, CongressDaily reports. Billy Tauzin, head of PhRMA, recently said in an interview, "When Families USA and PhRMA can get together, I hope that's a sign to everybody in the House and Senate that we can find common ground, and that the president's call to put party aside and to put ideologies aside and try to find what works is a good call" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 5/1).
- Service Employees International Union: SEIU has asked CNN and Fox News to pull a 60-second health reform-related television advertisement by the group Conservatives for Patients' Rights, calling the ad "unfit to air," Politico reports. The ad claims Obama wants to dramatically increase government control on health care and includes remarks from Canadian and British physicians complaining about their countries' health care systems. In the letter to the network, the union says, "This advertisement is false, deceitful and a distortion," adding that it overstates the power of the new board on comparative effectiveness research and misrepresents the opinions of the physicians. CPR said it has no plans to pull the ad. CNN said it is reviewing the letter, and Fox declined to comment (Budoff Brown, Politico, 4/30).
"Our health is not a commodity to be brokered," a Washington Times editorial states in response to a recent comment by Obama about the value of comparative effectiveness research. "Even if not all doctors boast perfect bedside manners, Americans still trust their judgment, their medical training and their ability to interact directly with individual patients in clinical settings far more than they trust government statisticians matching approved treatments to reported illnesses based on lifeless charts," the editorial continues.
"The time to really worry about your health is when a government bureaucrat, not your personal doctor, tells you what treatment you can have," according to the Washington Times. The editorial concludes, "The only conversations happening should be personal, not democratic. It's not up to the government to pull the plug" (Washington Times, 5/1).