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HEALTH REFORM: Budget Builds Momentum for Health Care

Congress approved a $3.5 trillion budget resolution with a bottom line that looks very favorable for health care reform. The resolution creates a deficit neutral reserve fund to transform and modernize health care that will allow health care reform to pay for itself over an 11-year window.  Politico's David Rogers calls the budget resolution "a big leg up toward health care reform"and writes:

The victory sets the stage for a major battle this summer over health care reform in which Obama will have the added leverage of special budget procedures allowing him to circumvent the threat of a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Democrats insist that it is still their intention to try to move forward without using this power, and the Senate Finance and Health, Education and Labor committees are each slated to begin their markups in June. If real progress is made, the hope is to avoid invoking the so-called reconciliation procedures, but the president and Democratic leaders badly wanted them as a backstop if no resolution is reached by Oct. 15.

The political focus on health reform has even some of the folks over at the Wall Street Journal sounding bullish on reform. In his "Capital" column, David Wessel lists four reasons why the time just might be ripe to fix health care:

  • Unhappiness with the status quo is greater. There are more Americans unemployed and uninsured and the cost of health care in terms of GDP and employer benefits has risen unabated. These changes, Wessel argues, were made apparent at the White House Health Summit where key stakeholders like insurers, providers, and employers "have decided it's smarter to ride the train than lie down in front of it." As our colleagues Joanne Kenen and Sarah Axeen noted, the cost of doing nothing has grown and will continue to grow, making the case for health reform even stronger.
  • White House political tactics are smarter. Here Wessel cites the Administration's decision not to offer its own detailed plan as Clinton did, but instead to let Congress take an active role shaping the plan.
  • The message is smarter. Emphasizing that you can keep your current health plan if you like it should help assuage public concerns about a lack of choice or control. Focusing on both coverage and affordability is appealing to all Americans.
  • Democrats in Congress want to do this. Wessel notes that Democratic leaders in both the Senate and House are coordinating, and seem more willing to compromise to see a plan pass.

On this last point, we'd suggest that it's not just Democrats who want to see health reform happen. On Wednesday Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Chuck Grassely (R-IA) jointly presented to their fellow members of the Senate Finance Committee a package of proposals and options for reforming the delivery of health care in America. As Grassley told the New York Times, "I did not find a lot of dissension." The package includes many changes to the way Medicare would operate, and the AARP's John Rother said they would be good for patients, an important signal. No one expects reform—to Medicare or the system as a whole— to be easy. Such agreement is a welcome respite from some of the more partisan debates of late and bodes well as Congress moves toward drafting health reform legislation.