Posted on 26 Jan 2010
Health-care reform hangs in the balance after last week's Massachusetts special election changed the balance of power in Washington. Now many interest groups that spent much of the last year negotiating with lawmakers are in wait-and-see mode ahead of President Obama's State of the Union address on Wednesday. But groups representing doctors, seniors and women rallied their troops Monday, urging lawmakers to press on with reform efforts despite tough new political realities.
The merits of the bills haven't changed, AARP Spokesman Jim Dau said. Without a health-care overhaul, seniors will face unaffordable prescription drug costs in the Medicare “doughnut hole” and problems paying for long-term care. The bills that Congress passed also would help younger, pre-Medicare members by doing away with preexisting condition exclusions that make health insurance unavailable or prohibitively expensive for them, Dau said.
“On our end, the situation is the same as it was a week ago, a year ago, five years ago,” he said.
“We’re going to keep pushing for the things that are important to our members,” Dau said. “About half our members are in Medicare and half are in the health-insurance dead zone, where they’re left out because of medical history or insurance pricing practices that make premiums too high to make a difference. We’re doing what we can to make sure leaders understand all of the challenges that AARP members face.”
The American Medical Association, which represents about a fourth of U.S. doctors and endorsed the House bill in November, says it’s still on board.
“The Massachusetts Senate election has complicated the prospects for comprehensive health reform, but the crisis of the uninsured remains very real to millions of Americans who have reduced access to health care because they don’t have coverage,” AMA President J. James Rohack said in a prepared statement. “Our nation still needs reform of the health-care system, and AMA will stay engaged in the process to get the best outcome for patients and physicians.”
On Monday, the American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Physicians and American Osteopathic Association sent a letter to Obama and Democratic leaders expressing continued support for health-reform legislation, including ensuring a “sufficient supply of primary-care physicians and other specialties facing shortages.” The letter also mentioned malpractice reform, which may gain renewed favor if Obama wants to court Republican support for a revamped attempt.
The doctor groups also are pressing for separate resolution of a scheduled payment cut, the product of a longstanding problem known as the sustainable growth rate formula.
The American Public Health Association went on record Monday as well.
“While the political dynamics of passing a bill may be challenging, we cannot allow politics to derail the much needed reform the American people need and deserve,” APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin wrote in a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Benjamin urged lawmakers to expand affordable health insurance, strengthen Medicare and enhance the health-care and public-health work force.
“The problems with our system that need to be addressed are only getting worse: the uninsured still die prematurely at unacceptable rates by the thousands; wellness and preventive care is often available too late; the economics of the current system still do not work for individuals, business or government; the value we get for the cost is highly variable,” he wrote.
The National Women’s Law Center urged supporters to tell their members of Congress that action is needed.
“We’ve been here before. This past year, the naysayers have declared the death of health-care reform more than once,” NWLC Vice President Judy Waxman wrote in a letter. “But together we’ve continued to fight for women and their families and today we have gotten further than ever — with health-care reform bills passed in the House and Senate. It’s not time to give in and accept our supposed fate. It’s time to stand up.”
Health-reform opponents also broke the silence that fell over the Capitol in the last few days. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R.-Minn., released a “declaration of health-care independence” which was cited by Citizens’ Council on Health Care, which denounced the health-reform bills as “socialized medicine.”
“As majority members of Congress consider a plan B for bringing government-run health care to America, and before President Obama uses his State of the Union to push such a plan, this declaration stands in opposition to any such plan,” CCHC said in a prepared statement Monday.
Other formerly vocal groups such as America’s Health Insurance Plans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have yet to speak publicly on the subject since last week’s special election.