Washington Report: Bipartisan Summit on Health Reform and the Reconciliation Road Ahead

At the end of February, President Obama met with members of Congress during a bipartisan summit on health reform. This event, which lasted nearly seven hours, had been widely anticipated by Republicans and Democrats. While lawmakers were hopeful that the summit would produce a bipartisan agreement, no clear consensus was reached between the two parties. In fact, the summit further highlighted the vastly different approaches to health reform.

In addition to the Congressional attendees, several members of the Administration joined President Obama at the summit, including HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy DeParle, and Vice President Joe Biden. Representatives from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) also attended. The folks from the Congress included the leadership of both parties, as well as the Chair and Ranking Member from the authorizing committees, which deal with healthcare.

Despite the lack of bipartisan agreement on health reform, this event highlighted President Obama’s more active role in pushing for enactment of a comprehensive reform bill. Prior to the summit, Obama released a healthcare proposal that contained significant modifications to the earlier passed Senate bill. The president’s proposal is important because it will likely set the foundation for budget reconciliation legislation that Congress will consider in the near future. The president’s proposal was designed to appease House Democrats, who have expressed opposition to many of the key provisions of the Senate bill.

Less than a week after the congressional bipartisan healthcare summit, President Obama indicated in a White House speech that he wants Congress to move quickly to pass healthcare reform legislation as early as late March before the Easter recess. The legislation will now include several new provisions proposed by the GOP including: proposals to provide an additional $50 million in grants for medical liability demonstrations; ways to increase doctor reimbursement if Medicaid is expanded; allowing high-deductible health plans to participate in the health insurance exchange; and using “medical professionals to conduct random undercover investigations of healthcare providers that receive reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs.”

Whether this effort wins over some needed Republican support is still up in the air. Ultimately, this is the best last shot the White House has for reviving its top domestic priority. Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats continue their own negotiations on healthcare legislation and a procedural strategy to achieve passage. It is widely anticipated that the congressional Democratic leadership will pursue healthcare reform though the budget reconciliation process.

Budget reconciliation is the only method for Democrats to enact comprehensive health care reform. Under this scenario, House Democrats would agree to pass the Senate bill with the understanding that significant changes would be made through reconciliation. Senate leaders are working on a strategy to ensure that 50 senators would support reconciliation, partly to alleviate concerns among House Democrats about passing the Senate bill before the reconciliation bill.

Because reconciliation can only be used to address revenue and spending provisions, a third “policy” bill may have to be voted on. This bill would address those issues not having a direct impact on the budget, such as abortion. Many of these controversial issues remain unresolved and could ultimately spell disaster for Democrats’ efforts to pass a comprehensive package.

About the Author

Robert Betz Ph.D.

Robert Betz, Ph.D., is president of Robert Betz Associates, Inc. (RBA), a well-established federal health policy consulting firm located in the Washington, D.C. area. Additionally, Dr. Betz is an adjunct professor teaching at The George Washington University where he specializes in political science and health policy. For more information about RBA, visit www.robertbetz.com.

1 Comment on "Washington Report: Bipartisan Summit on Health Reform and the Reconciliation Road Ahead"

  1. Dems are willing to take annithyg at all if it is called health reform’ without reading it for themselves. Republicans and independents aren’t.The government has no Constituitonal power to force 300 million people to enrich insurance companies and big Pharma by being required to purchase sucky policies they would never have chosen for themselves. And medicare being cut $500 billion just as those who paid in all their lives get up to the point of needing the expensive care shows precisely why government should not be trusted with our health care.The question is, why on earth do Dems who know what is in the bill want it to be passed?And most PEOPLE I know don’t care about government run option’ in the scheme of things. Once government has designed the sucky policy and limited our choices to what we can get, and shielded the committee deciding what is cost effective’ enough to be given out as health care, and drastically raised the premiums, it is little matter who administers the sucky policy.Who protects us from our government? At least now we can sue insurers.

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