Getting Ready

The summer before congressional elections historically is among the busiest times in the health care debate, and this year promises to be no different. Our time this week was consumed with meetings with members of Congress and the media preparing for the debates.

Polls consistently show that Democrats are heavily favored over Republicans on health care issues. As a result, it promises to be front and center after Congress returns May 28 from its Memorial Day recess.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert is determined to get a vote on a Medicare prescription drug bill, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle says he will appoint a committee to tackle the patients’ bill of rights, and the Senate has thrown tax credits for displaced workers into the hopper through the trade bill – for starters.

David Kendall and Jeff Lemieux, our health policy colleagues at the Progressive Policy Institute, point out that both houses of Congress now have passed legislation that includes refundable tax credits for health insurance – the current trade bill in the Senate and last year’s economic stimulus bill in the House. This is an historical first for an idea that Consensus Group members have been promoting for years.

While I don’t like the implementation provisions in the Senate bill, House Republicans now have an opportunity to go to conference on the trade bill and insist on revisions that would expand eligibility for tax credits and, in exchange, to demand more flexibility to give people more choice and options.

Separately, in our reading this week about the serious budget shortfalls states are facing with their Medicaid budgets, one fact came to light that partly explains why they are in so much trouble.

Mississippi, for example, has a big projected Medicaid deficit next year of $120 million. Now we learn that taxpayers have been paying an average of $1,000 a year just for non-emergency transportation costs for the average Medicaid recipient to go to and from doctors’ offices and pharmacies – before a single dollar is spent on care.

Starting June 1, Mississippi no longer will pay Medicaid patients’ relatives 36.5 cents a mile to drive them to the doctor, and it will stop paying additional transportation costs for companions to ride with them in taxis.

Do you know anyone who has a private health plan that generous? There has to be a better way, starting with creating a better set of incentives. Next to last: Several of you encouraged me to submit my May 10 commentary on Milton Friedman for publication. I did so, and expanded it to include a wonderful quote from Professor Friedman and more of what others had to say about him. To read it in the Spokane Spokesman-Times, click here:

Best wishes for a peaceful Memorial Day.

Grace-Marie Turner

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