Health Headlines: What’s Next for the Reform Law?

BY Sarah Clune  January 21, 2011 at 11:27 AM EDT

The Road Ahead for Health Reform

House Republicans fulfilled their campaign promise to challenge last year’s landmark health reform legislation, voting 245-189 to approve a repeal measure. But now Republicans are gearing up for a longer campaign. They plan to use every legislative and political tool at their disposal to try to slow implementation and starve funding of the bill over the next two years.

Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, said they won’t bring the repeal measure to the floor for a vote. According to the Wall Street Journal:

The repeal attempt is certain to founder as the Democratic-controlled Senate won’t take up the measure. Even if by some chance any form of significant health-care repeal legislation passed both chambers of Congress, the president wouldn’t hesitate to use his veto pen.

Politico outlines the seven GOP strategies that lay ahead, including pushing a Senate vote next week and using the appropriations process to again go after the individual mandate in late spring.

On Thursday, the House voted 253-175 to direct four committees to draft the “replace” phase of the Republican’s “repeal and replace” strategy. That morning, the House Judiciary committee took up the issue of medical liability reform: “Cutting Costs, Spurring Investment and Creating Jobs.” And next Wednesday, the Committee on Ways and Means will hold a hearing looking at the economic impact of the new law, and employers’ ability to hire new workers and retain existing employees.

States and Health Reform Challenges

Florida filed a formal request Tuesday to add six more states to a health care reform lawsuit. If approved by Judge Vinson, it would bring the total number of states in the suit to 26. In a statement, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “It sends a strong message that more than half of the states consider the health care law unconstitutional and are willing to fight it in court.” The states are: Iowa, Ohio, Kansas, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Maine.

It’s the largest lawsuit challenging the law — but there are others. The Washington Post reports:

“Lawsuits have been filed elsewhere. A federal judge in Virginia ruled in December that the insurance-purchase mandate was unconstitutional, though two other federal judges have upheld the requirement. It’s expected the Supreme Court will ultimately have to resolve the issue.”

The judge heard oral arguments in the case last month, and a ruling is expected at the end of the month at the earliest.

Single-Payer System for Vermont?

As states move ahead in implementing exchanges by 2014, independent consultant William Hsiao reported three potential options to the Vermont Legislature to revamp the states healthcare system. On Wednesday, the Harvard economist recommended a single-payer, public/private partnership plan.

According to the Associated Press:

“Vermont could provide every resident with health insurance, upgrade outdated hospitals and still save money if would just consolidate its “chaotic” health insurance industry into a single-payer health care system, a health consultant told state lawmakers Wednesday.

Harvard health care economist William Hsiao was hired by the state legislature to come up with three possible designs for a new health care system. He said getting one entity to process claims, reforming medical malpractice and taking other steps would save $2.1 billion in health spending by 2025.”

The Burlington Free Press outlines some of the highlights of the recommended plan.

Insurance Profits Up

The fourth quarter reports on insurance companies came in this week, the first since several provisions of the new health law went into effect in September. They included requiring insurers cover dependents up to the age of 26 and eliminating lifetime policy limits. And so far, the news for insurance companies is good.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

“In spite of those potentially increased costs, many health plans should post another quarter of double-digit profit gains, say analysts and industry consultants. One reason: patient claims from the overhaul’s early provisions appear to be less than plans had anticipated, says Ana Gupte, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Insurers expect the law to remain, despite repeal efforts.”

UnitedHealth (which is a PBS NewsHour underwriter) was the first of the large insurance companies to release earnings. According to the AP, their “quarterly profits rose 10 percent, beating analysts’ expectations. UnitedHealth is the country’s second-largest health insurer based on enrollment, trailing only WellPoint.”

Find more coverage on our Rx for Reform page.