Political Diagnosis: Conservative Groups Fight Health Care Reform; Bills May Split Over Public Option; High Cost of Care in Texas and More ...

By Christine Cupaiuolo — May 30, 2009

Looking for Supreme Court news? See our separate post on discussions surrounding Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination and an interview with Georgetown University Law Professor Emma Coleman Jordan.

Conservative Groups Protest Health Care Reform; Progressives Fire Back: A 30-minute documentary-style advertisement titled “End of Patient’s Rights — The Human Consequences of Government-Run Health Care” is scheduled to run on Washington’s NBC affiliate on Sunday morning, following “Meet the Press.”

The SEIU and other progressive groups are urging NBC not to air the infomercial because of false and misleading claims by Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, the group behind the video. Factcheck.org, run by the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, called CPR’s previous advertisement “misleading.”

Some background: CPR is led by ex-hospital CEO Rick Scott, who is, well, kind of sleazy. Scott was head of Columbia/HCA healthcare company, the largest for-profit U.S. healthcare company, until the board of directors ousted him in 1997 amid a  government fraud investigation. Columbia/HCA Healthcare ended up pleading guilty and paid a record $1.7 billion in fines. Scott was never charged; today his investment firm owns a chain of walk-in urgent-care clinics in Florida, among other ventures.

“Having Scott lead the charge against healthcare reform is like tapping Bernie Madoff to campaign against tighter securities regulation,” Christopher Hayes wrote in The Nation earlier this month.

In other words, the current health care system works just fine for him.

Plus: Political Hotsheet reports that the nonprofit Americans for Prosperity Foundation launched a new campaign called Patients United Now “to educate citizens about the threat of government controlled health care.”  Media Matters fact-checks those claims. The group previously enlisted Sam “Joe The Plumber” Wurzelbacher in its campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act, a pro-union bill.

Kennedy to Unveil Health Care Bill on Monday: “Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) is circulating the outlines of sweeping health-care legislation that would require every American to have insurance and would mandate that employers contribute to workers’ coverage,” writes Ceci Connolly at the Washington Post.

The plan in the summary document, provided by two Democrats who do not work for Kennedy, closely resembles extensive changes enacted in the senator’s home state three years ago.

In many respects it adopts the most liberal approaches to health reform being discussed in Washington. Kennedy, for example, embraces a proposal to create a government-sponsored insurance program to compete directly with existing private insurance plans, according to one senior adviser who was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Split Between Democrats: The New York Times looks at the split between Kennedy, who is championing a public health plan, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who will probably play down the public option in favor of bipartisan support.

One possible compromise is what has become known as the trigger option — the public plan kicks in only if private insurance companies fail to make affordable coverage available to all Americans within a certain timeframe. It’s kind of difficult, however, not to argue that the timeframe has already expired. Robert Pear writes:

Passage of comprehensive health legislation this year is a top priority for Mr. Baucus and Mr. Kennedy, the chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. So they may be able to resolve their differences, aides said.

The split reflects not only political differences between the two men but also differences between their committees, racing to write the most ambitious health care legislation in the nation’s history.

Over all, Democrats on the Finance Committee tend to be more moderate than those on the health committee, which includes more Democrats who identify themselves as liberals or progressives. The two Senate panels are drafting separate bills that are to be merged before going to the Senate floor.

Meanwhile, on the House side, Rep. Charlie Rangel, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said earlier this week, “It’s my political judgment a plan without the public option would not be able to pass the House.”

The Root of the Problem: Atul Gawande’s New Yorker story on the high cost of health care, told through the lens of a small Texas town, is drawing high praise.

American Prospect-turned-Washington-Post-blogger Ezra Klein calls it “the best article you’ll see this year on American health care — why it’s so expensive, why it’s so poor, what can be done.” Commenters seem to agree.

(Side note: Congrats to Klein on the move, but I’m sorry that his blog tagline went from “Momma said wonk you out” to “Economic and Domestic Policy, and Lots of It.” Nothing better at WaPo?)

Wonk on This: Health Wonk Review is a bi-weekly compendium of health policy blogs. This week’s round-up is posted at Boston Health News, a new-ish blog by freelance health and science writer Tinker Ready (I’m already in love with her name). Want to participate? Look here.

The FDA as Public Health Agency: Scott Hensley at Covering Health points to a New England Journal of Medicine article by new FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein. Hensley notes that this public health manifesto is supported by a single footnote — “a reference to a Supreme Court decision in 1969 that affirmed the FDA’s broad authority and its constant  ‘overriding purpose’: the protection of public health.”

Insurance That Comes With a Cost: “Is your medical insurance bad for your health? If you have a high-deductible plan, the answer may be yes,” begins this New York Times Patient Money column on the pitfalls of high deductibles. Walecia Konrad continues:

The investment firm Fidelity recently surveyed employees at various companies who had opted for a high-deductible health plan linked to a health savings account. About half of those workers said they or a family member had chosen not to seek medical care for minor ailments as many as four times in the last year to avoid paying the out-of-pocket expenses.

As any doctor will tell you, small health problems left untreated can become big problems, warns Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy at the health care advocacy group Families USA. “This is just one of the many high-deductible pitfalls consumers need to watch out for,” Ms. Stoll said.

Read on for more.

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