Health issues back on the DC agenda

Sunday’s New York Times goes a little further about the new members entering Congress next year. We mentioned in our post-election analysis several days ago how the biggest change for health policy would be not what get moved to the front burner, but what goes to the back burner: pre-emption of state consumer protections, cuts and caps to Medicaid and Medicare, Health avings Accounts, etc.

However, the article does suggest that many of these new members have a populist streak with a commitment especially on health care. Here’s the link:

Here’s the most relevant paragraphs for health advocates:

Bob Casey, who overwhelmingly defeated Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, said he looked forward to “a really intensive focus on health care that I hope to be a part of.”

That economic populism extends, for many candidates, to a new emphasis on expanding health coverage. Congressional Democrats who lived through the Clinton administration’s failed effort to create a national health insurance plan, which many believe was a crucial factor in the Democrats’ losses in 1994, have been wary of broad health legislation for years. (And being in the minority, they were unable to do much about it, regardless.) But the class of ’06 is adamant that something major can, and will, be done.

Dave Loebsack, a political science professor in Iowa who unseated the veteran Republican moderate, Representative Jim Leach, said he intended to sign on to proposed legislation to create a single-payer, national health insurance program “as one of the first things I will do when I get to Congress.”

“I have no idea where it’s going to go next year,” Mr. Loebsack said, “but at least we can give it a fair hearing.”

Steven Kagen, an allergist who won a Wisconsin district that has been represented by a Republican for much of the past 30 years, campaigned on a “No Patient Left Behind” plan. Mr. Kagen won despite doubters who called it “the Hillary hot potato,” a reference to the first lady turned New York senator who was the architect of the Clinton plan.

“This issue has blurred the lines between the two parties,” Mr. Kagen said. “You don’t have to be a Republican or a Democrat to be ill, and to understand that the health care system doesn’t work.”

Mr. Kagen is one of several new House members urging a renewed commitment to the more than eight million uninsured children in the United States, an issue that will move to the forefront when the State Children’s Health Insurance Program comes up for renewal next year.

Most of these new Democrats said they were also committed to changes in the new Medicare prescription drug program; in fact, giving the government the power to negotiate prices with drug companies is one of the first items of business in the Democrats’ “Six for ’06 Agenda.” The agenda also includes an increase in the minimum wage and expansion of embryonic stem cell research.

Ron Klein, a state senator who defeated the veteran Representative E. Clay Shaw Jr. of Florida, said he had often heard both from retirees who fell into the gaps of the new Medicare drug plan and from “taxpayers who were really put off that this was something that could have been done a lot better.”

Democrats, of course, had their chance to resolve the prescription drug problem in the past — their party held the Senate for a brief period in 2001-02 — and few issues have been more divisive on Capitol Hill.

But the new Democrats say they have high hopes of building bipartisan coalitions for these changes in Medicare, for expanding embryonic stem cell research, and for other parts of their agenda. “I’m still scratching my head” over Mr. Bush’s veto of last year’s stem cell bill, said Ed Perlmutter, a former state senator who won a House district in the Denver suburbs.

Representative Sherrod Brown, who is moving to the Senate from the House after beating Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, argued: “Tell me a whole lot of Republicans won’t work with us on finding a way for middle-class kids to get a college education, to vote for embryonic stem cell research, to raise the minimum wage. John McCain is already out there talking about prescription drug issues.”

Senator Brown will be a major champion for health consumers, as will some of these other new members. As the article stated, there first opportunity will be to fix the Medicare Part D benefit, and to reauthorize the State Child Health Insurance Program to accomodate the growth in the program, so that we can truly cover all children…

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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