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Sen. Baucus Outlines Vision for Health Reform

HealthDay News -- Detailing his vision for health reform focusing on reducing excessive cost and providing better care, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Nov.12 issued a "Call to Action" urging Congress to ensure meaningful coverage and care for all Americans.

The plan envisions investing in a health system that emphasizes quality, value and, over time, less costly care. There would be an increased emphasis on weeding out excess costs and wasteful spending.

Baucus did not place a price tag on his plan, saying he'd have more precise figures once legislation is drafted. But he did say that the upfront investment required in the first five years would yield "definite savings" over 10 years.

"Let me be clear about one thing, there is no way to really solve America's economic troubles without fixing the health care system," Baucus told reporters at a press briefing to unveil his plan. "If you fix Wall Street, you fix the housing crisis, you change taxes, you fix everything else, and you don't fix the health care system, then government spending will keep going up."

Much as President-elect Barack Obama has proposed, the Baucus plan relies on a mix of public and private solutions to ensure access to care. Unlike the President-elect, however, Baucus would require all Americans to have health coverage.

The Senator's plan would expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program and extend Medicaid to every American living below poverty. It would establish a nationwide insurance pool called the "National Insurance Exchange" through which Americans seeking coverage could compare and purchase plans.

As a temporary fix until the exchange is in place, people aged 55 to 64 who lack health coverage through a public or group health plan could buy into Medicare.

Low-income Americans and small businesses would get help purchasing coverage in the form of tax credits. Large employers who don't provide coverage would have to pay into a fund to help cover the uninsured.

The Senator proposes several steps for strengthening the role of primary care, including fee schedule adjustments and bonus payments for delivering these services. He also calls for further testing and expansion of the "medical home" concept.

Recognizing that the Medicare's "sustainable growth rate" formula is "fatally flawed," Baucus would replace the current system with the goal of moving toward a system that refocuses payment incentives on the quality of care delivered.

In a letter dated Nov. 17, ACP President Dr. Jeffrey P. Harris commended Baucus for his leadership on health reform, particularly his strong support for primary care. "ACP is fully in agreement with the need for reforms that will boost access to this segment of the delivery system," Harris wrote.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Finance Committee, issued a statement in which he expressed support for health reform but urged the Congress to proceed with caution. "Dramatically expanding government spending and putting additional pressure on employers already struggling to create jobs would have repercussions that need to be carefully considered," he said.

Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health -- an organization representing health employers -- said large businesses are "very encouraged" that the plan seeks address the challenges of providing health coverage to workers, their families and retirees. "At a time of widespread economic anxiety, Chairman Baucus is to be commended for rightly recognizing that health care reform goes hand-in-hand with addressing our nation's broader economic problems," she said in a statement.

November 19, 2008
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