KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Congress Returns From Memorial Day Recess, Focuses On Reform

Congress is returning from its Memorial Day recess Monday with plans to begin examining proposals in earnest for what health care reform in America will look like, The Associated Press reports.

"First up as Congress returns from a weeklong recess: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, (D-Mass.,) partially sidelined by cancer, is convening his health committee's Democrats on Tuesday to begin weighing his proposals to extend health care to all. Later in the week, the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee meets behind closed doors to work on legislation to achieve the same goal." A spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that during the recess House Democrats held 120 health care events.

Also today, health industry leaders are slated to deliver specific plans to the White House on cost-saving measures to save $2 trillion in costs over 10 years, a pledge they made to President Obama. "The groups of health insurers, doctors, hospitals and others are expected to produce a slate of cost-saving proposals, such as reducing hospital readmission rates, improving coordination of care, focusing on prevention and cutting administrative expenses" (Werner, 6/1). 

As Congress sets to work, Politico reports that "If there was such a thing as a sure bet in the bill, this would be it: the creation of an insurance marketplace, or "exchange," where individuals and small employers could compare plans side by side, find options with a minimum benefits package and buy coverage. Insurers would be required to take all comers, regardless of pre-existing conditions. Proponents say it would give individuals a place to find affordable insurance that could go with them from job to job." Other options still include instituting taxes on employer-provided health benefits, though unions are opposed to the idea, and it could face other roadblocks as Obama promised not to raise taxes on those earning less than $200,000 annually (Brown, 6/1).

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., told USA Today that the legislation is coming together. But reform will have to clear several hurdles to happen, including avoiding detours like North Korea's nuclear ambitions, defining roles by lawmakers, the price tag, keeping passage of the bill through budget reconciliation on the table and testing the reform coalition to keep supporting the proposal through hard times (Page, 6/1).

Senate Democrats are pledging not to let President Obama's push for a quick confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, steer health reform off-course, Roll Call reports.

"Democrats noted that the Senators leading the charge to reform health care are not integral to shepherding Sotomayor through the confirmation process - neither Baucus nor Kennedy sit on the Judiciary Committee. Democrats also believe the Republicans will want to avoid the political risk of unnecessarily delaying the confirmation of the Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice."

"Additionally, several moderate Democratic Senators from conservative-leaning states are skittish, putting them in direct conflict with their liberal counterparts, among them the influential Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.). Schumer is actively pushing a public plan option intended to bridge the partisan divide, but he has yet to find any GOP takers" (Drucker, 6/1).

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