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Economic Stimulus Package Likely To Include Funds For Medicaid, Health Care IT

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Aides to President-elect Barack Obama have told lawmakers that a two-year economic stimulus package they plan to consider in January 2009 could cost as much as $850 billion, rather than the $600 billion currently under consideration, congressional officials said on Wednesday, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports (AP/Contra Costa Times, 12/17).

According to the Los Angeles Times, the economic stimulus package "could shape the course of Obama's presidency" and "help lift the economy out of recession, giving him the space to enact his ambitious energy, education and health care plans" (Nicholas, Los Angeles Times, 12/17). Lawmakers and lobbyists have said that the package "would let states and localities, rather than the federal government, decide how to spend the bulk of the money" to avoid the "more time-consuming practice of loading the measure with thousands of ... earmarks," Bloomberg/Detroit Free Press reports (Woellert/Greiling Keane, Bloomberg/Detroit Free Press, 12/18).

Under the package, states likely would receive as much as $100 billion in additional federal Medicaid funds.

Obama also has indicated that the package would include funds for health care information technology efforts, such as the expansion and implementation of electronic health records, in an effort to decrease costs and reduce medical errors. Expansion of EHRs "has seemed the low-hanging fruit of health reform, largely because everyone agrees going digital will improve care," the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal, physicians "have been reluctant to invest $40,000 to $60,000 on an electronic record system that may not be interoperable with other systems, especially when much of the savings goes to insurers and other payers" (Weisman/Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, 12/18).

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Hearing Postponement Requested

House Appropriation Committee ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) on Tuesday in a letter asked committee Chair David Obey (D-Wis.) to postpone a hearing on the economic stimulus package scheduled for Friday until January 2009 to allow more members to participate, CongressDaily reports. "It is our hope that you will consider convening further hearings and a mark up in the early days of the 111th Congress to debate the merits of the stimulus plan," Lewis wrote (Sanchez, CongressDaily, 12/17).

Blue Dog Coalition Seeks To Make Pay-Go Rule Statutory

Members of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition on Tuesday said that they hope to introduce a bill to coincide with the economic stimulus package that would make the pay-as-you-go budget rule statutory, CongressDaily reports (Sanchez, CongressDaily, 12/16). Congress in 2007 adopted the rule, which requires lawmakers to offset the cost of any new mandatory expenditures and tax cuts, but lawmakers can waive the requirement.

Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) said, "Now more than ever ... statutory pay-go is of utmost importance," adding, "(W)e all recognize ... that the economy is first, and there is going to be deficit spending, but along with that we have to charter a course that makes us fiscally responsible somewhere down the line" (Clarke, CQ Today, 12/16).

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.