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Congress Gearing Up to Tackle Healthcare Reform

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, April 24, 2009

Hearings and actions this week on Capitol Hill have shown that the Democrats are planning to move full speed ahead toward having healthcare reform bills ready to mark up by summer.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) announced after a healthcare expert roundtable on healthcare delivery systems Tuesday that the committee will have a "walk through"—essentially looking through potential provisions addressing delivery of care—on April 29. "I'm very excited about this. We're going to go somewhere," Baucus said. Two additional Finance roundtables have been scheduled as well—expanding coverage on May 5 and financing health reform on May 14.

The goal, Baucus said, is to have a mark-up of a health reform bill ready by June. In a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday, Baucus and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D MA), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, confirmed their committees are planning to mark up separate healthcare reform bills in June—although the bills’ language is expected to mirror one another so lawmakers can easily combine them into one bill.

At the April 21 roundtable, a dozen participants—which included representatives of several provider-related groups including the American Hospital Assocition and the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania—examined such measures as bundling of payments, quality reporting organizations, hospital readmissions, outcomes, value-based purchasing incentive programs, patient-centered medical homes, and care coordination across healthcare organizations. (See finance.senate.gov/sitepages/hearing042109.htm for the complete written testimony.)

Meanwhile, three committees on the House side—Ways and Means, Energy and Labor, and Commerce last month set a goal of completing a reform proposal before the August recess. But some bumps are being encountered along the way, including examining the viability of a "public plan option" that could possibly expand healthcare coverage.

However, Republicans are letting Democrats know that they want to be involved in the reform process—and are being vocal when they think Democrats are ignoring their views. At the House Ways and Means hearing on insurance market reforms on April 22, ranking minority member David Camp (R-MI) expressed irritation to Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY). Camp said he fears the healthcare debate will "disintegrate into the familiar—though not necessarily partisan—arguments" that have prevented "comprehensive reform."


Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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