Raising Women’s Voices

HEALTH CARE: An Overhaul Will Have to Wait

Posted in Uncategorized by raisingwomensvoices on November 6, 2008

HEALTH CARE: An Overhaul Will Have to Wait

Democrats’ campaign rhetoric aside, few health care analysts expect the new president and Congress to undertake a sweeping overhaul of the health care industry any time soon.

The more pressing needs of a faltering economy make it unlikely that big changes in health care can quickly make their way to the top of the new agenda. But analysts say the newly empowered Democrats are likely to abandon some of the health care positions staked out by the Bush administration, particularly when it comes to Medicare.

Private insurers’ role in Medicare “is target No. 1 for Democrats,” said Robert Laszewski, the president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a consulting firm in Alexandria, Va.

Under the privatization approach of the Bush White House, commercial insurers now provide coverage to about a quarter of the nation’s 44 million Medicare enrollees — at a cost to the Medicare program of about 15 percent more than when the government provides the benefits directly. With the threat of a Bush veto removed, Congress will now be looking to shrink or end those industry subsidies to save Medicare money, Mr. Laszewski said.

The president-elect and the Democratic Congress also are likely to give Medicare the power to directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies — a change that the Bush administration has resisted — though the impact on prices would depend on the authority Congress grants.

Analysts also expect the Democrats to seek closer scrutiny of the drug industry through the Food and Drug Administration, an agency that has been stretched thin in recent years.

And many analysts expect Congress to take some steps to address the increasing cost of medical care. High on the list might be covering more children under the federally subsidized State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Congress might also try some relatively inexpensive other changes, like pushing harder for the adoption of electronic health records or requiring hospitals and doctors to report publicly both the cost and the outcomes of their care, to enable patients to comparison-shop. — REED ABELSON

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