Health Politics

HEALTH REFORM: Polls Holding Steady Into Thanksgiving Break

The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll is in, and the health care reform approval numbers are holding pretty steady. Slightly more people than last month, 54 percent, believe the country will be better off if health reform passes. And 42 percent -- an improvement from earlier this year -- believe that health reform will personally benefit them or their families.

The number who believe health reform will hurt them (24 percent) or the country (27 percent) is down slightly from last month. Roughly the same one-in-four don't think health reform will affect them. Democrats and Independents are more likely than Republicans to view health reform as positive. However, when asked about specific provisions in the health care bills, a majority ranked as  "extremely" or "very" important these components of reform:  affordable, available health insurance, coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, providing subsidies to help the uninsured purchase coverage, requiring all Americans to have health insurance, filling the Medicare donut hole, and not adding to the U.S. budget deficit.

HEALTH POLITICS: Senate Dems Not Giving Up On A Bipartisan Bill

Maine's Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe both voted with fellow Republicans Saturday against the Democratic bid to bring health reform legislation to the Senate floor. Yet both are moderates who have broken with their party in the past, and both have signaled they would consider voting for the health bill -- if Democrats change it enough, reports The New York Times. Collins told the Times,

I have ruled out voting for this bill, but I still very much want to vote for a bill and that is why I am continuing to have discussions. I still cling to the belief that it is possible for a group of us to come together and rewrite the bill in a way that would cause it to have greater support.

Everyone was pretty excited when Senator Snowe decided to vote for Senate Finance chairman Max Baucus's version of a health care reform bill. Yet at the time, Senator Snowe warned her colleagues loudly and clearly that her vote to get that bill out of committee didn't assure her vote on final passage.

HEALTH POLITICS: Money, Money, Money, Money

The Washington Post ran an interesting chart about how senators voted on Saturday. It included the uninsurance rate back home, and the health industry contributions they have received (although it wasn't clear either there, or on exactly how this particular chart defines the health industry -- and of course some sectors of the health industry favor reform). But no matter how you look at the relationships between the votes and those numbers, it did come down -- no surprise, unfortunately -- to a party line vote.

USA Today also has a piece on the massive amount of lobbying money being spent on the health care battle.  It seems that just about everybody has hired a lobbyist, and the total cost exceeded $422 million during the first nine months of 2009. The paper also has a useful run down of what four provider groups (doctors, hospitals, drug companies and insurers) and four health insurance purchasers or consumers (employers, the insured, seniors, and the uninsured) stand to win and lose under current versions of the legislation.

HEALTH REFORM: One Hurdle Down, Many More To Go

"A Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed" seems like a pretty obscure way to start the Thanksgiving holiday festivities, but we'll take our victories where we can get them.

We all know the obstacles remaining -- from a (abortion) to z ( we couldn't think of a really great Z on Monday morning -- Xanax only sounds like a Z. For now we'll settle for Zocor as a placeholder for more fights on pharmaceutical pricing). But a supermajority of the United States Senate has agreed to begin the historic debate on health care reform after the holidays. And that's an achievement which gets us closer to another achievement.

We're not going to rehash everything in the weekend papers, because we expect that a ridiculous proportion of our readers were either watching the vote on C-Span or at least tracking it on their Blackberries.  But a few good links to point you to:

At the Treatment, Harold Pollack writes on the absurdity of listening to Republicans complain that the Democratic health care bill is too skimpy in its help for the poor.

HEALTH POLITICS: Everybody's Working For The Weekend

Or, at least, the Senate will be working this weekend. The Senate plans a rare Saturday night vote on a motion to proceed with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's $848 billion health care reform bill,  released earlier this week. The pressure is on for Senate Democrats, who need 60 votes to ensure the bill makes it to the floor to begin debate.

Reid melded the Senate Finance and HELP committee's reform bills, but his "deep personal involvement in assembling the overhaul of the health care system," makes it  "Reid's bill," writes Carl Hulse in The New York Times. If Reid successfully guides the health care reform bill through the Senate, it could be the biggest victory his career, and a huge boon for Obama and the Democratic Party, writes Hulse, but if he fails, it could mean disaster for the Democrats and an even tougher re-election battle for Reid in his home state of Nevada. Many Democrats expressed faith in Reid's skills as a legislator and a tactician, according to the Times,

HEALTH POLITICS: A Fresh Look at Malpractice

Over the past year or so, we began detecting some subtle changes in how Democrats were talking about malpractice. They weren't embracing the Republican tort reform agenda, weren't about to start limiting damages and saying "Sorry Charlie" to people who had suffered heartbreaking harm. But they weren't just changing the subject either. They were recognizing a problem, and considering solutions. Liability problems as well as larger obstacles to addressing serious patient safety problems.

We posted about it a few times (here and here). I started reading more about it, and I started talking (and listening) to what doctors had to say. Not just lobbyists for doctors, but doctors. Including some progressive docs in primary care who favor health reform or a single payer system. I have a piece online in American Prospect today, outlining some alternatives to traditional malpractice lawsuits that are worth trying. (Not to replace the current court system, but to test alternatives. And while we test alternative dispute resolution or other approaches, it should be voluntary.)

QUALITY: Dying Well Beats Dying Badly. And Expensively

As we've written a lot on end of life care, we notice when others do the same.  NPR's Joseph Shapiro this week reported on La Crosse, WI where 96 percent of the adults who die have an advanced directive. That extraordinarily high figure arises from the innovations and commitment from Gundersen Lutheran hospital. Careful, sensitive discussions by trained doctors and nurses -- they use a 12 page guide -- is time consuming. Medicare doesn't reimburse them for that time, A provision in the House health care bill would change that -- the provision that was caricaturized as a "death panel." The Senate bill doesn't contain it.

COST: The Price is Right for Health Reform

After weeks of anticipation and speculation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has unveiled the legislation that will bring health reform to the Senate floor in the coming weeks.

While waiting for the details of the bill to come out Wednesday, we created a little office pool, called the Price is Right for Health Reform. In an office-wide email, we asked our peers to guess the CBO's estimates of the gross costs of the bill. Showcase Showdown rules (closest without going over) applied. We were intentionally vague in our question because estimating the true costs of the bill is inherently a difficult process.

The number we were looking for was $848 billion. The CBO's estimate of the gross cost of the bill is essentially the total cost of coverage provisions over the next 10-years. This is the number most frequently reported in the media as the "cost" of the various health reform bills being discussed. But is this really the best indicator of the true costs of health reform? Maybe not. First, timing matters: $848 billion over ten years is a lot different than a $787 stimulus bill where 90 percent of the money is spent within the first 3 years. So do deficits. How much does a bill cost if it's fully paid for and in fact reduces the deficit as is the case for both the House ($109 billion) and Senate ($130 billion) bills?

We received plenty of calls from our co-workers asking just these questions. We tried to stay quiet, because we were interested in what the educated, non-health policy wonks think about the cost of reform. True to our think tank's "post-partisan roots" we got a range of answers from "too little" to "$600 trillion, Obama lies." We got a couple of "$1" which we assume was a reference to the bill's deficit neutrality, and $90 billion which seems like a reasonable estimate of yearly costs.  But the majority of the answers clustered within the $800-$900 billion range, surprisingly close to the final answer. Few people seemed willing to go above $900 billion, suggesting the power of the official price tag President Obama put on reform during his September address to a Joint Session of Congress. So who won? The answer after this non-commercial break:

HEALTH POLITICS: Steady as She Polls

If polling on health reform were a band, we'd call it The Hold Steady.

Several new surveys out this week show the public remains as conflicted as ever on health reform -- convinced of the need for change, but worried about the impact on their lives and the lives of their family.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday shows 48 percent of those surveyed supported the proposed reforms; 49 percent opposed them. An AP poll released Monday found a similar split, with 41 percent in favor; 43 percent opposed and 15 percent undecided.

These even divides are consistent with past polls, suggesting that the uproar in August was more of a bump in the road than turning point. However beneath the topline questions are some interesting trends.

HEALTH REFORM: Monday Morning Quarterback

It's Monday, the day after Sunday, which in America means a surprisingly large number of Americans are talking trash about their fantasy football teams. (Good hustle Ben, but the Cleveland Steamers are on a roll.) So forgive us for the gridiron gab, as we reset the play clock on health reform.

As you know, the passage of H.R. 3962 in the House two Saturdays ago pushed health reform into the red zone and brought us closer to the goal line than we've ever been before. The problem, as the Senate prepares to take the field, is that the goal posts keep getting pushed back. A slow handoff between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the CBO has delayed the bill's release, but Reid seems determined to keep the ball moving. Roll Call's Emily Pierce lays out the potential Democratic gameplan going forward: