Healthcare Business News
Ron Pollack, Families USA executive director

Lawmakers, groups weigh in ahead of Obama speech

By Jessica Zigmond
Posted: February 12, 2013 - 4:00 pm ET

Hours before President Barack Obama offers the first State of the Union address of his second term, lawmakers and interest groups delivered last-minute messages on what they hope the president will say about healthcare.

Healthcare executives and policy experts have already weighed in, noting that Obama could use tonight's speech as a way to inform millions of Americans about the healthcare reform law's coverage expansions that will launch this year.

Ron Pollack, Families USA executive director who is leading a group called “Enroll America,” said Tuesday in a statement that the state of the union will be stronger when tens of millions of Americans gain access to healthcare coverage after the enrollment period kicks in. In the meantime, the administration and the states have less than eight months for the first enrollment period, he said.

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“The federal government must also provide important fiscal assurances to states that are considering whether to opt in to health reform's Medicaid expansion for low-income Americans,” Pollack said. “The upcoming federal budget decisions must therefore ensure that the generous federal funds that will be available for state Medicaid expansions are not reduced,” he continued. “Whether or not the president explicitly addresses these challenges in tonight's speech, the months ahead will undoubtedly be spent preparing for the largest changes in our nation's healthcare system in half a century.”

Opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act said Obama should answer during his address questions about the 2010 law, which is considered his signature domestic policy achievement. The majority side of the House Ways and Means Committee released a short list of questions about the Affordable Care Act that it said Americans deserve to have answered. For instance, the tax panel asked the president to answer why consumers will lose the healthcare coverage they currently have and like, citing a Congressional Budget Office report issued last week. In a revised estimate the CBO projected that 7 million fewer Americans would have employment-based coverage in 2022.

Meanwhile, entitlement reform is likely to play a part in tonight's speech. The president mentioned the topic in his address last year and just last week emphasized his openness to such reforms. Although the administration has not said what those reforms should be, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a briefing yesterday that Obama is opposed to raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65.

House Democrats, anticipating the official Republican response to the president's speech from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), reiterated their opposition to Medicare and Medicaid proposals that House Republicans have pushed.

During a conference call Monday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, criticized Rubio for voting last year to support Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan, which she said would “gut Medicaid by $810 billion” and would place coverage at risk for about 1 million nursing home residents. The House budget proposal died last year in the Senate.

When asked which entitlement reforms Democrats and Republicans could agree on, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Budget Committee, told Modern Healthcare he would like to see Republicans approach Medicare reform by focusing on an incentive structure in healthcare that pays for quality, not quantity.

“We made some very important steps in the Affordable Care Act, but we can build on those,” Van Hollen said after he spoke Tuesday at a National Press Club event about the nation's budget woes. “So accelerating bundled payments, dealing with dual eligibles, looking at Medigap reform. There are things we can look at that don't have a negative impact on beneficiaries,” he said.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a physician on the House Ways and Means Committee, served as the event's co-headliner with Van Hollen. The Georgia Republican said Republicans and Democrats could find common ground in the area of medical lawsuit reform, which he said could save hundreds of billions of dollars.

“The president has actually given a wink and a nod to it in a previous State of the Union,” Price said. “I'm hopeful that he does so tonight.”

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