Recently Barack Obama did an interview with Katie Couric from NBC news. While chatting about health reform and other things, he made a reference to the precedent of the Hyde Amendment that restricts federal funding for abortions. In this reference he made it sound like he may support a health care bill that has an explicit exclusion of abortion care. Check out more from Feministing here. There’s also some frustrating things coming out of congress for the appropriations bills: crazy amendments proposed at silly hours of the night. Check out RH Reality Check for that.
A few days ago Barack Obama spoke out in a news conference about health insurance reform. He stated that congress still has “a few things to work out” and that “this debate is not a game…they [average Americans] are counting on us to get this done”. He spoke for about ten minutes and then spent the large part of an hour answering questions. He sounded pretty upbeat: “What’s remarkable at this point not is how far we have left to go, it’s how far we’ve already come”, and he’s be backing off the time limit since it doesn’t look like bills will go to the floor of the senate before the August recess. But maybe before the end of the year?
The National Immigration Law Center came out with a document comparing the different health care reform proposals that are on the table in Washington right now. The piece gives side-by-side comparisons of the House tri-committee bill, the Senate Finance Committee bill, and the Senate HELP bill. There are a variety of areas of health reform that are being compared, including eligibility requirements for individuals to purchase insurance in the exchange, the subsidy system that will be available and to whom that system will be accessible, tax exemptions, how the bill treats those who are undocumented, stipulations around the expansion of Medicaid and who is eligible for Medicaid. Keep up with what’s going on with health care reform and immigration at the National Immigration Law Center here.
Check out this article from Newsweek written by Ted Kennedy.
“This is the cause of my life. It is a key reason that I defied my illness last summer to speak at the Democratic convention in Denver—to support Barack Obama, but also to make sure, as I said, “that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American…will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not just a privilege.” For four decades I have carried this cause—from the floor of the United States Senate to every part of this country. It has never been merely a question of policy; it goes to the heart of my belief in a just society. Now the issue has more meaning for me—and more urgency—than ever before. But it’s always been deeply personal, because the importance of health care has been a recurrent lesson throughout most of my 77 years.”
This article from RH Reality Check outlines the challenges faced by women of low income in the search for abortion – women may not be able to afford it and not eligible for federal or state funds, many insurance companies claim they cover elective abortions, but may not have providers in the region, or women face obstacles like 24 hour waiting periods or parental notification. Despite these obstacles, legislators are talking up their concerns about abortion provision in the health care bills. Give me a break.
Things seem to be murky as we look ahead in health care reform. People are saying all different things – Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi seems to think we’ll get all the committees to finish their bills by August (as the self-imposed timeline dictates), but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer doesn’t agree. There has been talk of compromises about abortion issues as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee talking of transferring the responsibility of cuts to federal health care programs to an outside panel. In addition, the media is making headlines out of setbacks and largely ignoring success stories in health reform. Leadership walks a fine line between pacifying moderate Democrats and not enraging progressives.
A very complicated part of the process is yet to come – the conference committee. This is a group put together by leadership of the parties (speaker of the House and senate majority leader as well as minority leaders). Conference committees are formed when complex bills from both chambers need to be melded into big pieces of legislation. Each party is to be represented in the correct ratio, and chair people and members of all the committees involved in the legislation are included in conference committee. There are a few set rules for when a piece of legislation goes to conference committee: no new amendments can be added, and no pieces can be taken out if they are agreed on by both chambers of congress. Other than that, the committee is left to determine the best way to synthesize the two bills, with usually significant oversight by the president.
Once the Senate Finance Committee and House Energy and Commerce come out with their versions of the bill, we can expect to see a conference committee created. Should be…tedious.
It looks like grassroots groups are going after Max Baucus (D-MT, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee). He is an important player in this process, and is getting pressure from liberal groups to come through on things like the public option. It’s starting to sound like everyone just wants this thing done soon.
Check out this round-up from Our Bodies, Our Blog.
Rachel Maddow goes into the politics of health care reform with Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA).
Two reports have come out of the Commonwealth Fund this week, both addressing important reasons we need health care reform now. One (Failure to Protect: Why the Individual Insurance Market is not a Viable Option for Most US Families) is about the failures of the individual market and the kind of reform that is needed to keep these families covered and provided for. This report describes the status of the 16 million Americans (6% of the under 65 population) who have individual-market health insurance coverage. The study found that 64% of those in the individual market spend $3,000 or more per year on premiums and out-of-pocket costs, as opposed to 20% of those with employer-sponsored health insurance. In addition, 51% of those in the individual market spend 10% or more of their yearly income on premiums and out-of-pocket costs compared to 29% of those with employer-provided insurance. Adults who have individual-market insurance have less comprehensive coverage (they are more likely to not have prescription coverage or dental insurance) and they have higher rates of benefit restrictions and problems with coverage. They are significantly less satisfied with their insurance in comparison to populations with other kinds of insurance.
This study is important because recently due to the economic slow-down more employers have been dropping coverage for employees or moving to lower cost plans for their employees. Since most states limit public insurance to children, pregnant women, those with low incomes, and the elderly, many individuals need to strike out on their own and find coverage in the individual insurance market. They then end up having to pay more out-of-pocket costs and higher premiums, in addition to higher deductibles. According to the Commonwealth Fund;
“These findings indivate that the individual insurance market in its current form does not provide a viable alternative to employer-based group coverage.”
The survey found that 47% of those that went into the individual market to find coverage said it was very difficult or impossible to find a plan that fit their needs. This was even higher for the group that had poor health (60%). Also, 57% of people found it very difficult or impossible to find a plan they could afford (again, higher in the population with poorer health – 70%). 73% of those surveyed in the study did not end up buying a plan due to the barriers.
The other report released recently (How Health Care Reform Can Lower the Costs of Insurance Administration) offers insight into the problem of private insurance costs, specifically administrative costs. The report states that $265 billion could be saved over ten years with the proposed national health care exchange and the increased utilization and availability of public plans. This money would be saved because there would be less marketing and underwriting, less claims administration, less time spent negotiating provider payment rates, and lower commissions to insurance brokers.
“The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the US spends $91 billion more per year on health insurance administrative costs than it should, given its size and wealth.”
Most of this money is spent by private health insurance companies, where 12.4% of costs are administrative compared to 6.1% by public plans. In addition to reducing these administrative costs, the national health exchange would help lower this huge amount by increasing the transparencies of insurance products and streamlining the plan purchase/enrollment process.
Check out Barack Obama’s weekly address – this one is dedicated to health care reform. “We know there are those who will oppose reform no matter what…[who] use the same scare tactics that have stopped reform before because they profit from this relentless escalation in health care costs.” He then goes on to answer some FAQs – cost questions about the deepening of deficits (“I will not sign on to any health plan that adds to our deficits over the next decade…the reforms we make will help bring our deficits under control in the long term.”), the rationing of care and the ability to choose doctors (he keeps with the “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” mantra). He ends by urging the House and the Senate to vote for reform and keep this process moving.
In other health reform news, Peter Orszag (the White House budget director) and Kathleen Sebelius (the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services) and other appointed and elected officials in the White House have been making firm statements about the timeline and the need for reform. The importance of the final being deficit neutral has been an important part of recent reform discussions; House legislation has been rated by the Congressional Budget Office at $239 billion over ten years.
Also, RH Reality Check outlines the amendments put forward by Steve Buyer (R-IN) proposing higher premiums for those who engage in unprotected sex. Wow. Check out this other article from the AFL-CIO website that cites our own Amy Allina from the National Women’s Health Network, and this article that makes the case for including immigrants in health care reform.