Will Health Care Summit Jump-start Reform?
Bipartisan Meeting Puts Reform Proposals Back in the Spotlight
Feb. 24, 2010 -- Health care reform has delivered plenty of big moments.
Heated town hall meetings. President Obama's September address to Congress. The
House and Senate passing historic reform bills. And Republican Scott Brown's
unexpected victory in Massachusetts.
This week should provide another memorable twist in this yearlong saga.
It began Monday with Obama unveiling his own proposal, a 10-year, $950
billion overhaul of the nation's health care system. His plan generally mirrors
the Senate reform bill, with some key differences. The president clearly aims
to reignite momentum for reform, which had dissipated after Brown's win
deprived Democrats of their filibuster-proof Senate majority.
And Thursday's bipartisan summit on health care reform will underscore
Obama's new hands-on, high-stakes involvement in the debate. Whether it will
produce anything substantive, though, is at best uncertain. Lawmakers of both
parties predict the meeting will be more theatrics than anything else.
Still, the unveiling of the White House plan ''is a good move by the
president,'' says Julius Hobson, senior adviser on health care for Bryan Cave,
a law firm. "He's taking ownership and leadership on the issue. It changes the
The proposal aims to extend coverage to 31 million more Americans, reform
the insurance market, and take steps to curb the inexorable rise in health care
costs. Obama would create a new federal insurance board that would review --
and perhaps stop -- excessive rate increases by health insurers. The idea
follows widespread anger over premium increases of up to 39% planned by Anthem
Blue Cross of California.
News of those hikes, and those by other insurers elsewhere, appeared to
breathe some life into pro-reform efforts. "It was like throwing one right over
the plate in batting practice,'' providing Democrats an easy target, says
Donald Taylor, a Duke University health policy professor. The rate increases on
individual policies show the instability of that market, he says.
Yet conservatives see the insurance board as another sign of what they call
excessive government regulation.
"It's surprising because it takes away so much power from state insurance
commissioners,'' says Brian Darling, director of Senate relations for the
Heritage Foundation. "It plays into the conservatives' argument that this bill
will be a de facto government takeover of health care.''
Details of the President's Plan
Other provisions in the Obama plan include:
- Stiffening the penalties for individuals who choose not to purchase health
insurance, and for companies to cover costs if their workers get subsidized
- Closing completely the infamous ''doughnut hole'' in Medicare's
prescription drug coverage.
- Eliminating the special deal to cover a Medicaid expansion in Nebraska, a
widely derided feature of the Senate plan; instead, all states would get help
in covering those costs.
- Applying a new Medicare tax on unearned income for high-income
- Delaying an excise tax on expensive, ''Cadillac'' health benefits plans
until 2018, and raising the ceiling on the value of such plans that would
trigger a tax.