So far, health summit highlights differences

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM
  • Updated: February 25, 2010 - 1:11 PM

 

Differences bridged: zero. Lines drawn in the sand: too many to count.

That’s how things stand after the chaotic morning go-round at the historic one-day presidential health care reform summit that began this morning in Washington, D.C.

The intent was to move the stalled health care reform bill forward by finding areas of agreement between Democrats and Republicans. If anything, it appears so far to have solidified them despite the corny, repeated references by each side to their "friends" across the aisle. Memo to those at the summit: nobody’s fooled by this.

Among the surprising, headscratching moments so far: Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn’s desire for "undercover patients" to root out fraud in Medicare, and Montana Sen. Max Baucus’s nervousness when it came time for him to speak. Coburn, a Republican and a physician, spoke at length about fraud in Medicare, a valid concern. What he didn’t realize: the current plan is loaded with decent ideas to start getting a handle on it. In fact, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has done excellent work on this issue, though apparently secret patient agents was one thing she and her colleagues missed.

The topic for the morning was insurance reform. Both sides agree that insurers should not be allowed to discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions or arbitrarily yank someone’s coverage. All good. But then the differences kick in.

To ensure that doesn’t happen, Democrats want to set some baseline consumer protections for consumers who would buy their policies in the proposed exchanges. An example: setting a minimum hospital stay requirement for a new mom who just had a baby by C-section. Republicans call this letting big government dictate the kind of care patients receive, and say requiring certain levels of treatment drives up costs.

Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, also reiterated the party’s opposition to mandates — requiring people to buy health insurance. It’s an interesting position to take. If you want to protect consumers with pre-existing conditions, you need to have mandates. Otherwise, people easily game the system, only buying health insurance when they discover they need medical care.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York was one of the few Democratic senators to actually engage in a meaningful way this morning. He correctly pointed out that Republicans can’t say they want to root out waste and fraud from Medicare and then turn around and say you can’t reduce Medicare spending. Getting rid of waste and fraud would make the sprawling entitlement program more efficient, and so therefore, it would cost less. That would be an achievement, not a reduction in care.

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