Even in an industry where more than $2 trillion is spent annually, the $700 billion price tag attached to the federal bailout of Wall Street raised eyebrows among health policy analysts.
The bill was passed by Congress last week and signed into law Oct. 3.
Though many analysts have expressed concern that the hefty sum could delay, deter or derail carefully negotiated health reform initiatives planned for next year, industry executives and lawmakers with oversight of healthcare said they do not think that will happen.
American Hospital Association President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Umbdenstock, who has played an active role in shaping many of those initiatives, stayed optimistic as Congress voted on the so-called bailout legislation last week, saying that the current economic woes wont tamp down momentum heading toward a new Congress and White House.
The financial crisis puts a brighter light on the need for changes within the healthcare system, he said. Indeed, the financial rescue package itself could actually give a boost to other domestic prioritieshealthcare reform included. With such a huge financial crisis taking place, improving things for the American public cant be accomplished without reforming the healthcare system, he said.
Its a sentiment shared by other high-profile industry players. Former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, during a conference call with reporters last week, said that the financial instability seen on Wall Street could ultimately lead to an upheaval in Washington, translating to the biggest year on the transformation of healthcare any of us have ever considered.
Thompson, now a senior adviser to the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions and a partner at the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said that the bailout bill represents a tipping point to an American public that has soured on partisan bickering. I think this is going to expedite the discussion on medical care, he said. People are just absolutely frustrated with Congress and Washington avoiding problems.
Some of those very leaders on Capitol Hill agree. When asked if the controversial legislation could hinder efforts to reform the healthcare system, Sen. Max Baucus
(D-Mont.), who as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is positioned to usher in those initiatives, said not at all.
Healthcare reform is critical irrespective of anything else, he said just minutes after the Senate passed the bailout bill. We have to (move) aggressively now otherwise we wont have this opportunity, I think, for another decade.
Baucus counterpart on the reform initiative, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committees Health Subcommittee, acknowledged that the bailout legislation is so expensive, you have to be having that thought, But, he added, the price tag doesnt mean that reform will get shunted to the side.
It costs a lot of money, but that doesnt make it a terminal situation, he said.