Former Bush Health Secretary Thompson Praises The Senate Finance Bill

October 05, 2009 - The New York Times
By David M. Herszenhorn

In a statement distributed by the White House Monday, Tommy Thompson — the former Republican presidential candidate, health and human services secretary in the Bush administration, and four-term governor of Wisconsin — gives strong praise to the health care legislation that is expected to be voted on by the Senate Finance Committee later this week.

The statement, prepared jointly by Mr. Thompson and Richard Gephardt, the former Democratic House majority leader, warns that “there are some issues that remain troublesome and unresolved in the Senate Finance Committee’s bill.” But it calls the legislation “another important step toward achieving the goal of health care reform this year.” And more bluntly, it says: “Failure to reach an agreement on health reform this year is not an acceptable option.”

Mr. Thompson, who briefly ran for his party’s 2008 nomination for president, is the latest high-profile Republican to speak out in support of the developing health care legislation. The former Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, said in a Time magazine interview last week that were he still serving in Congress he would vote for the health care bill.

Mr. Frist, in an interview on Monday with ABC News Radio qualified his remarks somewhat, but still said he was strongly in favor of health care legislation being approved this year.

Administration officials say the White House is making a concerted effort to court high-visibility Republican support of the health care legislation away from Capitol Hill, in what appears to be a strategy similar to one used during debate of the economic stimulus plan earlier this year.

When Republicans in Congress were overwhelmingly opposed to the economic stimulus plan, the White House reached out to Republican governors around the country, and a number stepped forward to endorse the proposal.

Winning the support of governors may be more difficult on the health care legislation because the bill includes an expansion of Medicaid that will increase costs for most states. Many governors, whose budgets are already stretched thin by the economic recessions, have spoken out in opposition to any increase in state expenditures on Medicaid.

Still, the willingness of a well-known former governor like Mr. Thompson to support the health care legislation could give a boost to Democratic efforts to win other endorsements, as well as reassure centrist lawmakers in both parties that the Finance Committee’s plan represents a bipartisan compromise.

The legislation was developed in months of talks between three Democrats and three Republicans on the Finance Committee. But in the end two of the Republicans, Senator Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming and Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, said they would oppose the measure.

The third Republican negotiator, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, has not yet announced how she will vote on the bill, but her votes on amendments during committee debate made clear that she remains open to supporting it.

Mr. Frist in the radio interview said that he had not endorsed any particularly bill under consideration in Congress.

“I think the Republicans right now feel like they’ve been out of the table, and in truth the Democrats don’t need the Republicans to pass a bill,” Mr. Frist said. “There are five bills on the floor now — none of them are perfect. People try to put words in my mouth saying ‘You support the Baucus bill.’ I don’t support the Baucus bill as written today, and there’s some egregious things in there that will cost all the taxpayers too much money and not give them anything. It doesn’t bend the cost curve.

“But fundamentally the insurance reform in there is fantastic, I think, in terms of pre-existing illness, not refusing health care, the individual mandate of bringing people to the insurance market, absolutely critical today, the subsidies haven’t been worked out. So I think the best place for me to be is to call it like it is, to push reform, say we have got to fix it, we do need to pass something this year, but we have to do it in a responsible way.”

Here’s the full statement by Mr. Thompson and Mr. Gephardt. In a similar statement in early September, the two men had called for a “reset” of the health care debate to focus on a bipartisan solution. They have also written opinion articles on health care together, including this one.

Mr. Thompson is now a partner at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss Hauer & Feld. Mr. Gephardt is the chief executive of his own consulting firm, the Gephardt Group.

Statement On Senate Finance Committee Passage of Health Care Reform
by Tommy Thompson and Richard Gephardt

The bill that the Senate Finance Committee will vote out for consideration by the full Senate this week is another important step toward achieving the goal of health care reform this year. It moves us down the path of providing affordable high-quality health care for all and expanding coverage for millions.

Failure to reach an agreement on health reform this year is not an acceptable option. Inaction will only increase the burden of rapidly rising health care costs and care denied for millions of American families. Inaction will increase the crushing burden of rising health costs on American businesses that are struggling to create jobs and lead America’s economic recovery. It is time for action.

Clearly, there are some issues that remain troublesome and unresolved in the Senate Finance Committee’s bill, but there are opportunities to debate these issues further as Congress moves in both Houses toward enactment of health reform this session. Differences in approach among committees in the Senate and House should not obscure the fact that there is also substantial common ground and compatible provisions between the Senate Finance Committee bill, the Senate HELP reform bill and H.R. 3200 in the House of Representatives. There is broad support for key provisions in the Senate Finance Committee that would forbid insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, dropping coverage when people become ill, or imposing spending coverage caps on people when they get sick and need coverage.

Fragmentation and lack of coordination of patient care generate inefficiency, redundancy, and waste in the health care system, unnecessarily driving up costs of care. The Senate Finance Committee bill would make some progress in promoting needed coordination by encouraging formation of Accountable Care Organizations at the regional level. To successfully minimize waste, redundancy, and inefficiency, however, health care must become better coordinated at the basic, family doctor-patient- level as well.

Hopefully, by the time the Senate health reform bill goes to conference, it will include a provision that establishes community-based health teams to work with family doctors to coordinate continuing care between doctor visits and after discharge from hospitals. Community-based health teams are key to overcoming fragmentation in health care delivery, because they would increase the productivity of family doctors in preventing and managing chronic diseases, decreasing medical errors, and providing the support patients need to stay on their (Mandy will get rest of file on Sunday)

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