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Keeping the Heat on Health Care Reform

Some Lawmakers Are Pushing to Keep Health Care at Top of President-Elect's Agenda
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 14, 2008 -- Does health care reform still have a chance for quick action?

Several lawmakers, fearing that it may not get the immediate attention of President-elect Barack Obama because of the economic crisis, are working to keep the subject front and center.

One of them, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee, introduced his plan for health care reform this week. Another, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., has set up a task force on health care reform and is working behind the scenes with major stakeholders on the issue.

But lobbyists, politicians, and analysts are waiting to see how hard and how fast Obama will move on health reform plans after he is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009.

Leading Democrats in Congress have already said they would like to act quickly next year on a bill expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said last week that a bill expanding SCHIP "would probably be one of the first bills we would put on President Obama's desk."

A bill adding 4 million uninsured children to the program passed Congress last year but was vetoed by President Bush.

But quick action on children's health insurance -- in addition to possible early action to broaden funding for embryonic stem cell research -- raises questions of when the White House and Congress will choose to move on the wider, more difficult question of lowering health care costs and making insurance accessible to some 47 million Americans now without coverage.

'All or Nothing' Approach to Health Reform

"There are two discussions going on now. Do all or nothing, or do SCHIP first and come back later" to debate bigger health reform issues, says Dean Rosen, a health care lobbyist and one-time aide to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Obama has not yet named a team that would advise him on domestic affairs like health policy, nor has he chosen a nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services.

"I don't think the Obama senior people have really made any decisions," Rosen tells WebMD.

A plan put forward by Obama during the presidential campaign called for mandatory coverage for all children as well as expanded government subsidies and tax credits to help lower coverage costs.

Health Care and the Economy

Earlier this week, Baucus issued a health reform "white paper" calling for insurance "exchanges" similar to those in Obama's plan, as well as a program allowing adults between 55 and 65 to buy into Medicare.

Obama has said that shoring up the economy will be his first priority as president. Baucus is among those lawmakers arguing that relieving businesses and families from rising health care costs is a key part of the effort.

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