Political Diagnosis: Health Care Reform Tips - What to Read, Who to Watch; Groups Find Common Ground; A Lesson From Massachusetts; Time to Split the FDA? ...

By Christine Cupaiuolo — March 30, 2009

Health Care Primers: The L.A. Times earlier this month published a Q&A on issues to watch as the health care debate unfolds. And over at The New York Times, Uwe E. Reinhardt, an economics professor at Princeton, breaks down the economic sector’s definition of “health care reform.”

Groups Find Some Common Ground on Health Care: “Groups often at odds over health care reform — consumers, insurers, doctors, employers — reached a broad agreement Friday that could serve as a starting point for lawmakers trying to overhaul the system,” reports the AP.

The report issued by the Health Reform Dialogue (which recently lost a couple of members when two large unions pulled out) calls for covering the uninsured through a mix of expanded government programs and subsidies to purchase private health coverage.

Who Are the Big Health Care Players?: Politico identifies five groups to watch in the coming months for insight into which reform plans have traction.

Why We Can’t All Get Along: The New York Times looks at opposition by the insurance industry to one of the proposals President Obama has floated: offering a federal, Medicare-like insurance plan to anyone, at any age, alongside private health plans provided by commercial insurers.

“[T]he insurance industry and others wary of too much government intervention vehemently oppose the idea,” writes Reed Abelson. “They say the heavy hand of the government will eventually push out the private insurers, leaving the government option as the only option. That is why the industry seems unwilling to give ground on the issue, even while making other concessions to national health reform — like the industry’s announcement on Tuesday that it might be willing to stop charging sick people higher rates than healthy customers.”

Also see the useful sidebar linking to academic opinions on public health insurance, and this graphic on health care proposals along the policy spectrum.

So About That Announcement …: David Lazarus at the L.A. Times writes that insurance companies pulled a fast one:

The insurers are saying that they’ll treat all people fairly in return for a government requirement that everyone buy their product.

Yet if you read the fine print in their plan, it turns out that they’re reserving the right to charge different prices for different levels of coverage — a practice that would effectively keep us where we are, with sick (or potentially sick) people paying more for insurance.

The loophole was included — “hidden” is a more apt word — in a letter sent to prominent senators from a pair of industry leaders: Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Plans, an industry group; and Scott P. Serota, president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Assn.

Keep reading …

A Lesson From Massachusetts: “[T]here is only one real-life model in this country for the kind of sweeping change being considered in Washington, and that is in Massachusetts, where a landmark law signed in April 2006 has achieved near-universal coverage,” writes Kevin Sack in The New York Times.

Disputes Over Cost: The Hill reports on reaction from lawmakers to the cost of reform and the push for a deficit-neutral health care plan.

And, In Other News …

Amid Calls to Modernize Food Safety, a Plan to Split the FDA: “Drug industry advocates are quietly allying with some of their longtime critics pushing to split the Food and Drug Administration into two agencies, one for food safety and one for medical products,” reports the AP.

A former FDA official said the nomination of Margaret Hamburg, a former New York City Health Commissioner, for FDA commissioner, and Joshua Sharfstein, a pediatrician, as deputy commissioner, suggests Obama favors splitting the agency.

On the Way to Washington …: Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed into law legislation requiring abortion clinics to offer women the option of viewing their sonograms or listening to a fetal heart monitor before the procedure. The law also “requires the state to make and distribute pamphlets and a video about abortion and fetal development. And it requires clinics to post signs telling patients that coerced abortions are illegal,” writes David Klepper at the Kansas City Star.

“We were hoping for a veto,” said Holly Weatherford, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood. “But we will continue to provide our services and comply with this new law.”

In signing the bill, Sebelius — a Democrat and an abortion rights supporter — steered clear of one final showdown with anti-abortion lawmakers as she exits Kansas politics.

Next week she begins U.S. Senate confirmation hearings on her nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Anti-abortion groups have seized on her support for abortion rights and her political ties to abortion providers.

Take Action

Howard Dean and Democracy for America last week launched a campaign to ensure that Obama’s health care plan includes a universally available public healthcare option like Medicare. Add your name to this campaign at StandWithDrDean.com

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