What hath the election wrought for healthcare providers?
For one, some of the old, familiar faces have fallen by the Washington wayside. Gone are Durenberger, Rostenkowski, Cooper, Wofford, Foley, Mitchell and others who made healthcare a pet issue. Those folks didn't always agree with the conventional hospital executive perspective, but they were always knowledgeable, articulate and open to ideas on how to make the healthcare system more efficient.
Despite the losses, there will be a Frist in the Senate. And given the Tennessee Republican's good fortune to be born into the most successful family in healthcare, Sen. Bill Frist should do well by hospitals. The incoming Republican, a surgeon who owns $13 million worth of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. stock, believes his experience will be an asset in tackling reform of the healthcare system.
The Volunteeer State's senator-elect, like new California congressman Sonny Bono and dozens of other new lawmakers, lacks Washington political experience. Not since virginity has lack of experience been considered such a virtue.
Nevertheless, for the Republicans it's time to put up or shut up. As the Grand Old Party attempts to fulfill a "Contract with America," would be well advised not to turn its back on healthcare reform even though tax and spending cuts are priorities. Future Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) doesn't consider reform among his priorities, yet in exit polls it was ranked as one of the top three issues. For those who say they voted for change, healthcare reform was the No. 1 issue. Provider groups and local hospital administrators should constantly remind elected officials about the public sentiment and the 30 million-plus Americans who have no health coverage.
The right side of the political aisle needs to get serious about fixing what needs to be fixed. We bet that even a conciliatory President Clinton and the wounded Democrats on Capitol Hill will look for a reform plan that can win acceptance.
The reformed reform package should focus on insurance and making it easier for people to buy affordable coverage. Community rating and portability are worthy objectives, but an 80% employer mandate is not in the cards. It's also time to tackle medical malpractice liability by setting limits on awards and the time it takes to settle a case. And Congress should remember that cost containment means more than whacking Medicare payments to providers.
Furthermore, if universal coverage is a stated goal, it's time to consider taxing employer-provided health benefits.
The Republicans are certain to avoid an intrusive, expensive, government-controlled healthcare system. But they should remember than Americans voted for sensible change, and they expect the GOP to deliver the goods. Voters won't be fooled if the new Congress passes token incremental changes just to get healthcare off the table for the 1996 elections. Providers won't let them be fooled.