KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Democrats Consider Scaling Back Health Reform Package

ABC News interviewed President Barack Obama, who said: "The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated. People in Massachusetts spoke. He's got to be part of that process. ... I think point number two is that it is very important to look at the substance of this package and for the American people to understand that a lot of the fear mongering around this bill isn't true. I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on" (Stephanopoulos, 1/20).

Democrats are "giving serious consideration to abandoning the comprehensive approach in favor of incremental steps that might salvage key elements of the package," the Los Angeles Times reports. Without a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, Democrats are focusing their efforts on winning GOP support for different parts, perhaps approached piecemeal, of health reform including "restrictions on insurance companies and new initiatives to restrain costs" (Levey and Hook, 1/21).

The Associated Press reports that "(b)y all accounts, Democrats have made no final decision on their options, which included breaking the health legislation into several smaller bills." In an attempt to attract Republican support, there's some talk of adding key elements. "These included allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines, according to Rep. Timothy Walz, D-Minn."

AP adds that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., "said a slimmer bill would be a 'reasonable alternative' that could appeal to the public even with continued Republican opposition" (Fram ,1/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Meanwhile, "When asked if Congress would be able to send a health-care bill to Mr. Obama, (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid stopped short of saying it could do so. 'I'm confident that health care is an issue in the country, and we're going to do everything we can to alleviate the pain and suffering of people who can't afford health care and who want to maintain what they have,' he said" (Pulizzi and Yoest, 1/20).

McClatchy: "Democratic lawmakers, and apparently some Republicans, generally agree on barring insurers from denying coverage or charging more because of pre-existing medical conditions, helping people pay for policies, and ending separate rates for people because of gender. Flashpoints in the legislation now in jeopardy include how much, if at all, government should get involved in either running an insurance plan or encouraging multi-state private plans to compete with existing insurers," as well as whether some taxes should be "raised to help pay for the expansion of coverage" (Lightman and Douglas, 1/20).

CongressDaily reports that in addition to insurance market reforms and help for small businesses, other elements that could be addressed include "closing the coverage gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage, extending parents' insurance to dependent adults until age 26 and basing Medicare provider payments on quality rather than volume. 'You can do it in a lot of ways,' Hoyer said. 'You could do it in an individual new bill.'" Republicans, too, are hoping that a new start is imminent (Edney and Friedman, 1/21).

The New York Times: "But it was not clear that even a stripped-down bill could get through Congress anytime soon. Throughout the day, White House officials and Democratic Congressional leaders struggled to find a viable way forward for the health care bill … (Senate Minority Leader Mitch) McConnell was asked if the health care bill was dead. 'I sure hope so,' he said" (Stolberg and Herszenhorn, 1/20). 

The Hill: "White House press secretary Robert Gibbs pushed back against the notion that Obama would now like Congress to pass a scaled-down version of healthcare reform. 'The concern is that a narrow bill addresses a narrow group of concerns, yet doesn't make progress on all of the issues that we've talked about,' Gibbs said" (Bolton, 1/20).

Politico also reports that "sources insisted that the White House hasn't gravitated fully to the stripped-down bill as the only path to saving reform. Democrats were also gauging support for passing the Senate bill through the House and immediately approving a 'cleanup' bill with key fixes, a move endorsed by two major labor unions. … Other Democrats seemed reluctant to settle on a course too quickly, with the stinging loss of the party's 60-vote Senate majority still so fresh. And White House aides also pushed back on the notion that Obama himself had decided to abandon a full-blown health reform package, saying it was just one option on the table" (Budoff Brown and O'Connor, 1/21).

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