Health Reform Headlines: Medicaid Support, Vermont’s Universal Health Care Bill

BY Jason Kane  May 27, 2011 at 5:13 PM EST

Kathy Hochul; photo by Alan Bedenko/Buffalo Pundit via Flickr
Photo by Alan Bedenko/Buffalo Pundit via Flickr

Parties Debate Whether Hochul’s Win in N.Y. is Referendum on Ryan Plan

Democrat Kathy Hochul’s electoral coup in a reliably conservative New York district Tuesday sent shockwaves through both parties this week, as Democrats pushed hard to paint the win as a referendum on Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed changes to Medicare. GOP leadership shot back that it was nothing of the sort, attributing their loss to the nature of a three-way race and even more to a widespread misunderstanding of the Ryan plan.

That didn’t stop many Democrats from boasting of a sea change, and attempting to turn the win into something more lasting. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., staged a vote on the Ryan Medicare plan Wednesday evening, Republican senators were forced to either break with their party — or open themselves to attack ads in the run-up to 2012 race.

Jennifer Steinhauer described their approach in the New York Times:

Democrats, hopeful that the Medicare fight is a path to a political turnabout, are clinging to the recent developments like koalas to eucalyptus trees, insisting that the New York race was, as Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, said, ‘a bellwether for elections to come.

Even so, former President Bill Clinton urged caution in a discussion with NewsHour Senior Correspondent Gwen Ifill at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation-sponsored 2011 Fiscal Summit in Washington, D.C. He advised Democrats against reading the win as an excuse to delay charting plans for Medicare’s rapidly rising costs and long-term sustainability.

Ryan preemptively countered the election fallout with a video Tuesday night explaining, with flashy graphics, why he won’t back down in his calls for a Medicare overhaul. On “Morning Joe” Wednesday, he railed against Democrats for using “Mediscare” tactics — including a commercial produced by the liberal nonprofit Agenda Project — that showed a Ryan look-alike shoving an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff.

Report: Popular Support for Medicaid Rivals Medicare

As Republicans face the firestorm over Medicare reform, a report released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that — contrary to conventional wisdom – altering Medicaid could be just as politically dangerous.

More than half of Kaiser’s survey respondents — 53 percent — don’t want lawmakers to touch Medicaid. That’s just six points lower than those that said the same for Medicare. The study also refutes the belief that the program serves a small portion of Americans, making it politically easier to alter than Medicare. A fifth of Americans have received Medicaid benefits and 51 percent have a “personal connection” to the program.

Though “some conservatives and deficit hawks may have [thought] that Medicaid was a softer target, it may not be that soft,” Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Politico.

Also released Wednesday: an Associated Press-GfK poll found that most Americans don’t believe Medicare or Social Security need to be cut to deflate the deficit. A total of 54 percent feel it’s possible to balance the budget without cutting spending for Medicare, the study found, and 59 percent said the same about Social Security.

Vermont Gov. Signs Universal Health Care Bill

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a bill designed to make his state the first to provide all of its citizens with universal health care. Slated to take effect in 2014, “Green Mountain Care” will guarantee every resident of Vermont the chance to enroll in the state-sponsored insurance plan.

“We gather here today to launch the first single-payer health care system in America, to do in Vermont what has taken too long — have a health care system that is the best in the world, that treats health care as a right and not a privilege, where health care follows the individual, isn’t required by an employer — that’s a huge jobs creator,” Shumlin said to a crowd of about 150 on the Statehouse steps Thursday.

But as the AP reports, there are more questions than answers after the historic gesture:

“Among Vermont’s challenges: getting waivers from the federal government at a time when the U.S. House has come out strongly against the less ambitious federal health care bill passed last year. The Vermont law also leaves for future debate whom the state would pay for its publicly financed health care system, what benefits would be covered and a host of other details to be figured out by a new state board in consultation with the Legislature and administration officials.”

Republican Senators Ask Administration to Retract ACO Rule

Seven high-profile Republican senators sent a letter to the Obama administration on Tuesday calling the Accountable Care Organization proposal “unworkable” and demanding it be removed from the health care reform law.

In the letter addressed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Medicare chief Don Berwick, the senators cited recent criticism from many of the nation’s top health care providers. The ACO program has come under fire in recent months from the American Hospital Association — which says start-up costs will be more than the administration projects — and from hospital and doctors groups which say reporting requirements are overly burdensome and the proposed rules carry more risks than rewards.

Small Businesses Rally to ‘Stop the HIT’

A collection of small-business groups announced Monday they had formed a coalition to protest the tax on insurers in the health care reform law. Representing heavy hitters like the National Federation of Independent Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and nearly two dozen others, “Stop the HIT” wants to make sure members of the public and Congress are fully briefed on the “burden” the “Health Insurance Tax” will pose to small business owners and the self-employed.

Politico breaks down the coalition’s case:

“Stop the HIT” says the tax will take $87 billion from small businesses’ pockets in a decade. It argues the tax would affect the bottom lines of 2 million small businesses and 26 million employees who are covered at work, and reduce the take-home pay for the average employee with a family plan by nearly $5,000.

The left-leaning Main Street Alliance attacked the coalition’s efforts to repeal the health insurance tax, calling it another case of “small business identity theft – hiding behind small business arguments to defend big insurance profits.”