The terrorist tragedy has preoccupied the hearts and minds of all Americans. Grief, mourning and thoughts of retaliation dominate the national agenda, as well they should. But at some point, life must return to a more normal state.
The challenges facing healthcare providers will be as daunting as they were before that fateful morning of Sept. 11. At some hospitals, the struggles have intensified. The federal government's $35 million emergency funding package for New York hospitals walloped by the World Trade Center attack is a welcome boost.
Congress will devote a good deal of time in coming weeks to military, security and recovery issues. But that doesn't mean other important legislation should be in political limbo. We join with tenacious Tom Scully, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in calling for elected officials not to lose their resolve for dealing with healthcare.
For example, the House and Senate have both approved patients' rights legislation. There is no reason that a compromise on the two bills can't be reached this year in conference committee or through negotiations among the Bush administration, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.).
The fragile Medicare+Choice program needs a cash infusion and an image makeover. Less than 15% of the Medicare population uses the managed-care option, while low reimbursement rates have generated an exodus by scores of HMOs. If Congress and the Bush administration are serious about a private-sector managed-care option for seniors, they need to offer enriched payments to HMOs operating in high-cost markets. Listen to Scully when he says Medicare+Choice will "shrivel up and blow away" if action isn't taken soon.
Congress also needs to advance the debate on rural healthcare funding, lowering the number of uninsured Americans and securing medical records.
However, there isn't enough time, energy and money to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit. Although most politicians favor the entitlement, the price tag-one estimate is more than $300 billion over 10 years-and lack of consensus on how to administer the program should be enough to postpone action until next year.