Health Care Reform Set for Take Off?

Armen Hareyan's picture
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A month or so before the election, the Wall Street Journal was singing health reform's swan song. The deficit was too big, the economy too bad and the price of reform too high for anything substantive to happen in the coming administration.

These days the Journal is singing a different tune - with Tom Daschle and AHIP's Karen Ignagni setting the tempo.

"This Time Around," the title of an article in today's Journal says, "Health-Care Revamp Has Wings."

Why such optimism from a paper that has sometimes sounded skeptical?Obama's pick of Daschle to head HHS, "puts a skilled navigator of Capitol Hill in charge of the president-elect's bid to establish universal health care, which he has made a top priority." Then, there are early signs that major players in health care industry are willing to engage. PhRMA released an ad this week with talk show host / industry spokesman Montel Williams noting early diagnosis and preventative treatment can lower costs and "That's why everyone should have affordable health insurance." On Wednesday, AHIP issued a statement supporting guaranteed-issue coverage with no pre-existing condition exclusions, as long as such a policy is paired with an individual mandate. (Obviously many devils still to be exorcised from the details).

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Such gestures should not be taken as a whole hearted endorsement of reform by industry giants like PhRMA and AHIP. As the Washington Times reports, PhRMA is readying a multimillion dollar add campaign to undercut an anticipated push the Obama Administration to lower the costs of perscription drugs. In an an interview with AHIP, the American Prospect's Ezra Klein, picks up on the important fact that while the organization was willing to support guaranteed issue with a mandate, it left out community rating—which many would argue is an important, if not crucial piece, of the affordability equation.

Still it's encouraging that these industry groups are signalling their engagement with the reform process. Also a good sign, as the Journal notes, is the high level of leadership and bipartisan discussions coming out of Congress. Just today, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), told USA Today that he sees commonground for compromise. "If it includes private choices, including being able to buy your own policy and choose your own doctor, then we can talk."

Dialogue isn't restricted to the Hill. Just today, the Association of Health Care Journalists hosted a webcast with the Commonwealth Fund's Karen Davis and Harvard and Georgetown health policy expert Sheila Burke, who was probably the most influential Republican health staffer in Congress during the Clinton-era. Both see an opportunity for genuine reform in an Obama administration, both for expanding coverage and reconfiguring the health care system to be more cost-effective and more responsive to patients' needs. Both were encouraged by industry signals that they want to be involved in a process that could very much alter the rules of the game.

We may still be a long way from landing a comprehensive sustainable health care system, but early signs suggest that the health reform discussion has been cleared for take off.

Reported under Creative Commons by The New Health Dialogue Blog.

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