HEALTH REFORM -- February 11, 2011 at 4:02 PM EDT
Health Reform Watch: De-funding Efforts Begin, Berwick on the Hill
GOP De-funding Effort to Start Next Week
Republican lawmakers said Wednesday that they plan to use a spending bill that they'll bring to the House floor next week in their first effort to de-fund the health reform law.
The spending bill would fund the government through Sept. 30 -- lawmakers need to pass some version of it to avoid a government shutdown when the current spending bill expires in March. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Wednesday that the health reform de-funding language would be offered as an amendment to the main bill.
Even if the House passes the de-funding language, however, the Democratically-led Senate is unlikely to pass it and President Obama won't sign it into law. Lawmakers of both parties are wary of reaching an impasse that could lead to a government shutdown -- as happened in 1995. But the advocacy group DefundIt.org sent a memo to Republicans Friday urging them to allow a shutdown to happen if necessary.
House Republicans Grill Medicare Chief
Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee grilled Medicare chief Don Berwick Thursday, in Berwick's first appearance before a Republican-led House committee. Berwick -- a pediatrician and health care quality advocate whose nomination was opposed by Republicans -- parried questions about the law and his own views on reform.
The hearing could be the first in a string of appearances by Obama administration officials, as Republicans in the House make good on their post-election promise to hold hearings on the law. Last fall, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton told Politico that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius "might get her own parking place in [the] Rayburn [House Office Building]."
The hearing was contentious -- below, watch Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., ask Berwick whether he believes the British health system is a good model for America.
But Berwick defended the health reform law, including against Republican claims that it was hurting the elderly, saying that Medicare Advantage enrollment is up and premiums are down this year.
A Slow Start, New Resources for High-risk Pools
About 12,500 Americans have signed up for the new state-based high-risk insurance pools that provide health insurance to people with pre-existing conditions, according to data released Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services. That's up from about 8,000 since early November, the Washington Post reported -- but it's still far below government projections for the program.
High premiums, lack of outreach and difficult entry requirements (enrollees must have been uninsured for at least six months before signing up) have all been blamed for the program's slow start. But Politico reported last week that HHS is ramping up an outreach campaign to get the word out about the high-risk pools.