Obama Plan for Government Insurance Criticized by GOP

by Lesley Politi on January 19, 2009

Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) — President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to have new government health insurance compete with private coverage drew Republican fire at a nomination hearing for Thomas A. Daschle to run the Health and Human Services Department.

“Any new insurance coverage must be delivered through private insurance plans,” said Senator Michael B. Enzi, Republican of Wyoming and his party’s ranking member on the Health committee, in prepared comments for the hearing, the panel’s first session of the year.

Enzi was taking on a proposal by Obama to help reduce the number of uninsured by making available a version of Medicare, the government insurance for the elderly. Daschle preached the need for consensus in his remarks, telling lawmakers he was “determined to work with each of you” to change a system that costs $2.6 trillion a year and leaves 45 million people without health insurance.

“We need input and involvement and engagement,” Daschle told Enzi in response to a question about moving health-care changes through Congress. Daschle didn’t offer specifics of the Obama plan, or argue for its passage.

Daschle, formerly the Senate’s Democratic leader, also said the Food and Drug Administration has “lost the confidence” of Americans. He said he would work toward restoring science to decision-making in health and science agencies, answering a longtime Democratic criticism of the policies of President George W. Bush’s administration.

Science Agencies

The Health and Human Services department Daschle would head, if approved, oversees the FDA, as well as the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta.

Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said decisions at the FDA have become “politicized,” and asked Daschle how he would “reinvigorate” the FDA and the other agencies.

“I want to reinstate a science-driven environment,” Daschle said. “I want to take ideology and politics, as much as humanly possible, out of the process and leave the scientists to do their job.”

Few Disagreements

Obama’s proposals include making a health-care plan available to all and modeled after Medicare, the government program for the elderly and disabled, to compete with private coverage. Enzi’s comments were contained in prepared testimony, and few if any disagreements were aired in the hearing, which lasted about two hours. Daschle was welcomed as a former colleague by members of both parties. Robert J. Dole, the former Republican U.S. senator from Kansas, introduced him.

Daschle and Dole work for the same law firm, Alston & Bird. Dole, 85, a former Senate majority leader like Daschle, said the firm is “where he works and I just show up.”

Also today, a coalition including the American Medical Association, a union, the consumer group Families USA, drugmakers and a Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurer, released an advertisement on the need to change the health-care system.

The economic crisis makes it more important to rework the health system so everyone has access to quality, affordable care, the ad says, without giving specifics.

“Everybody’s frustrated that health care costs too much,” said Alissa Fox, senior vice president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, a Washington-based trade group, whose member companies insure 102 million people in the U.S., in a telephone interview.

Political Goodwill

Daschle, 61, brings to the post a reputation for bipartisanship and political goodwill built up during 26 years in the House and Senate. He was praised during the hearing by Republicans and Democrats. Daschle will next appear before the Senate Finance Committee, which will vote on the nomination before sending it to the Senate floor.

“There are a lot of areas where I think there is consensus,” Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, told Daschle.

Daschle faced questioning on Medicare Advantage plans, which are subsidized private insurance policies. Obama has promised to cut the subsidies.

Senator Richard Burr, a Republican of North Carolina, questioned whether the proposal would reduce the availability of those plans in rural areas. He noted that Daschle comes from a farm state, South Dakota.

Advantage ‘Expensive’ Choice

Daschle assured the committee that while he wanted to protect people’s access to these plans, the government needs to study whether the extra cost is worth it.

“It has become a much more expensive option, 13 percent more, and we have to look at whether or not we are getting our money’s worth,” he said.

Hatch told Daschle the FDA’s office that approves generic drugs suffered from “inadequate” funding that hasn’t kept pace with applications for new products.

Daschle said a “big part” of lowering health care costs is generic drugs and the FDA’s generic drug office “needs to be supported and financed.”

Enzi, during questioning, expressed concern about how tobacco might be regulated by the FDA, something that Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who chairs the committee, supports. Enzi said he didn’t want regulation to be seen as giving cigarette smoking a “seal of approval.”

The agency can play an “important role,” Daschle said, adding that he would consider all options.

Daschle received a warm reception from Kennedy, who is battling a malignant brain tumor.

“Reform is urgently needed and Tom Daschle is just the person for the job,” said Kennedy, 76, and leader of a Senate move to overhaul health care. He entered the room using a cane and appeared thinner than before, although he spoke clearly and audibly.

Source: www.bloomberg.com

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Cecil Jones January 20, 2009 at 12:03 am

Health care isn’t about “Do we have the money”, it’s about “Where is the money being spent.” We need to do a top to bottom review of every dime spent on health care and get to the bottomline and duplicate what works. Insurance doesn’t work, but why? Insurance is the practice of paying for something when you don’t need it just in case you do. Who pays “Something for nothing?” That’s an outdated paradigm. What factors are essential to health care? We need a Doctor to write perscriptions. We need a technician to take our vital and test us. That’s it. The rest of the things we pay for in health care are required by the Doctor. The unchecked costs are passed onto the individual and no one tries to control the price. People don’t need HMOs or all those people keeping the building functioning. The Doctor should be required to keep costs low for the people they treat. It all boils down to taking the cost out of medicine. Give me a Dr, a tech, and low cost meds. Let the Dr haggle for us to keep surgery and specialty costs low. He will be rewarded by the Corporations and the people he represents.

Cecil Jones January 20, 2009 at 12:04 am

Health care isn’t about “Do we have the money”, it’s about “Where is the money being spent.” We need to do a top to bottom review of every dime spent on health care and get to the bottomline and duplicate what works. Insurance doesn’t work, but why? Insurance is the practice of paying for something when you don’t need it just in case you do. Who pays “Something for nothing?” That’s an outdated paradigm. What factors are essential to health care? We need a Doctor to write perscriptions. We need a technician to take our vital and test us. That’s it. The rest of the things we pay for in health care are required by the Doctor. The unchecked costs are passed onto the individual and no one tries to control the price. People don’t need HMOs or all those people keeping the building functioning. The Doctor should be required to keep costs low for the people they treat. It all boils down to taking the cost out of medicine. Give me a Dr, a tech, and low cost meds. Let the Dr haggle for us to keep surgery and specialty costs low. He will be rewarded by the Corporations and the people he represents.

Jack January 20, 2009 at 8:03 am

I wouldn’t disagree with the plan Obama has released. I hate all those who criticize. They do not do anything other than criticizing others.

Let them do according to their plans and see what may outcome. Why to cut their legs before hand?

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