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Baucus: Don't Touch That Button

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WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee may hold back on discussing efforts to create a new public health insurance program for working-age U.S. residents who are not poor, Sen. Max Baucus said today.

Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, talked about health insurance reform efforts here at a press briefing.

The Senate Finance Committee will release a position paper on health system reform options next week, and it will use the release of the paper to kick off the process of drafting health reform legislation, Baucus said.

Many in the health insurance industry, and especially producers, have come out against the creation of a “public option” for working-age people who are not poor.

About the public option, Baucus said the Senate Finance Committee “will get to this a little later.”

Baucus said he wants to get a “little momentum” behind health reform legislation before the committee tackles such a divisive issue.

“Cool it,” Baucus said. “We don’t have to deal with it now. It’s kind of a hot-button item.”

Health reform efforts faltered in 1994, during the Clinton administration, but “the need for change was not as great in 1993-94 as it is now,” Baucus said.

The “opportunity for reform is now” because “the stars are aligned,” and the concept of health reform now has bipartisan support, Baucus said.

The Senate Finance Committee will develop health reform legislation by dividing the drafting into three separate areas: changes to the health care delivery systems; systems for expanding coverage to all citizens; and financing.

Developing white papers will be the first step. The committee then will “walk through” legislative proposals on each option, Baucus said.

The committee will start drafting legislation in earnest in June or July, with the hope of reconciling the legislation with drafts from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.

Baucus said a Senate bill could go to the floor by mid-July, and that a House bill could go to the House floor around that time.

The goal would be to develop a coherent, less expensive system that provides health care for all, including those employed by small businesses, Baucus said.

When discussing ideas for specific health reform proposals, Baucus referred to a Commonwealth Fund Commission report, “The Path to a High Performance U.S. Health System: A 2020 Vision and the Policies to Pave the Way.”

The authors of the report recommend that policymakers:

- Increase Medicare fees for primary care, and increase reimbursement rates enough each year to keep pace with the cost of efficient practice.

- Change provider compensation methods to encourage patients to have a “medical home” and to use of prevention and condition management programs.

- Move to shift away from compensating providers for each service delivered, toward paying providers for care delivered over a set period of time, or for the duration of an illness.


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