Stimulus Package Will Include Funds For Medicaid, Health Care IT

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President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday during his weekly radio and Internet address released additional details about his economic stimulus package, which he said would include funds for Medicaid and health care information technology, Long Island Newsday reports (Brune, Long Island Newsday, 12/8). Among other measures, the package would seek to provide hospitals and physicians with access to electronic health record systems and other new medical technology (Shear, Washington Post, 12/7). Obama said that such a measure could help improve health care delivery and reduce costs (Nicholas/Hook, Chicago Tribune, 12/7).

Obama did not provide details about the total cost of the stimulus package (Schouten, USA Today, 12/8). Estimates of the cost of the package have reached as high as $1.2 trillion (Long Island Newsday, 12/8).

Prospects

According to CongressDaily, congressional Democrats acknowledge that a "deal with Republicans and the Bush White House remains unlikely before January," an indication that "any action on a stimulus package is not expected next week" (Hunt/Sanchez, CongressDaily, 12/5). Top economic advisers to Obama and congressional Democrats hope to complete work on the package in January to allow Obama to sign the legislation when he takes office on Jan. 20, 2009.

However, on Saturday, "congressional sources expressed skepticism ... that a program of such size and scope could be passed in the two weeks after Congress returns to Washington on Jan. 6," the Washington Post reports. According to the Post, "Democrats said that even if a recovery act quickly passed the House early next year, it could take longer in the Senate, where fiscally conservative Republicans have expressed concern about adding to the soaring deficit with a massive new round of government spending" and where "Republicans could easily hold up a final vote" (Washington Post, 12/7).

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Editorials

* Denver Rocky Mountain News: The "goal of a stimulus package should be to, well, stimulate the economy -- or at least stabilize rattled markets so that a recovery seems possible" and "should not primarily be a way to balance state budgets," a News editorial states. According to the editorial, a "number of governors and lawmakers are pushing for tens of billions more to help support programs such as Medicaid," but states "can't just be given a blank check," as the "danger here is that Congress may simply throw additional bundles of taxpayer money at the financial crisis -- all of which amounts to long-term debt -- without adopting policies that lead to a sturdy recovery" (Denver Rocky Mountain News, 12/7).

* Orlando Sentinel: "States have a good case to make for federal help" through a stimulus package, as they likely will have to reduce spending for health care and other programs to address a combined $24 billion budget deficit for the current fiscal year, a Sentinel editorial states. According to the editorial, a temporary increase in federal funds for state Medicaid programs "would help close the gap in their budgets without sparing them the necessity of taking a hard look at other, less vital programs." The editorial adds, "More cuts inevitably would drain more money from programs that serve the most vulnerable members of society -- the young and old, the poor and sick -- just as the bad economy is increasing the need for those programs" (Orlando Sentinel, 12/8).

* Washington Times: States have asked Congress for $40 million in additional federal funds for their Medicaid programs, as well as $136 million in other funds, and they "should be required to put forth their plans to cut spending and trim their bureaucracies" before they can receive any funds, according to a Times editorial. The editorial states, "The wake-up call for governors is that it is in their states' best interest in the short and long term to make the tough calls" (Washington Times, 12/7).

Opinion Piece

Comprehensive health care reform -- "specifically, universal health care" -- should "top the list" of measures included in a stimulus package because a "bold embrace of universal health care offers policymakers the chance at a fiscal triple-play: Universal coverage would stimulate the economy, it would boost the financial security of ordinary Americans and it would break the health care reform log-jam," Chris Farrell, a contributing economics editor for BusinessWeek, writes in an opinion piece. He writes, "Universal coverage would boost the economy in the short term," adding, "Targeting fiscal stimulus toward universal coverage would help ordinary workers rather than Wall Street tycoons" and "relieve a major source of economic insecurity for anyone handed a pink slip during the recession." In addition, Farrell writes, "To be sure, this kind of universal health care isn't good enough for the long haul," but "once the economy recovers, Washington can debate how to create a more cost-effective and cost-efficient health care system" (Farrell, BusinessWeek, 12/5).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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