Plans for universal healthcare coverage need to also include cost-containment reforms, witnesses testified before the Senate Finance Committee, which held a hearing to examine the possibility of reform during a time of economic crisis.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) had issued plans for a sweeping overhaul of the healthcare system last week, which included a mandate for universal coverage. The plan offers a multitude of options for people to obtain insurance, including a public-plan option to compete with private-plan options in a health insurance exchange. Healthcare reform is central to restoring Americas economy, Baucus said in his opening statement. It is not a distraction from addressing the economy. I say, we can and should do both.
While praising Baucus proposal as revolutionary, Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of political economy at Princeton University, cautioned that cost-control efforts should not be tackled before instituting coverage. Cost-containment is a longer investment that will take 10 to 15 years to achieve, he said. Insurance can be done more quickly. For that reason, universal coverage should be established first, then run in parallel with cost containment, he said.
Amitabh Chandra, an economist and assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University, agreed that both coverage and cost issues should be addressed. Tackling cost growth will energize our ability to emerge from recession, he said. Improving the Medicare program, however, will improve the long-term budget outlook, he added. -- by Jennifer Lubell