Baucus: Healthcare reform roundtables are legislation cornerstore
Montana Sen. Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Image Source: Carolyn Bunce
An average of 14,000 Americans lose health coverage each day, healthcare insurance premiums grow more than three times faster than wages and physician reimbursement has declined by more than 20 percent in the past eight years. Couple these sad statistics with a demographic shift that will see an ever increasing number of U.S. citizens eligible for, and needing services from, Medicare and it becomes clear that present healthcare delivery policies are quickly becoming fiscally unsustainable.

Healthcare reform is, “probably one of the two or three 800 pound gorillas” in the room, Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters Monday.

Baucus, speaking at an event organized by the <!-- /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:"Cambria Math"; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-1610611985 1107304683 0 0 159 0;} @font-face {font-family:Calibri; panose-1:2 15 5 2 2 2 4 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:swiss; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-1610611985 1073750139 0 0 159 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-size:10.0pt; mso-ansi-font-size:10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.0in 1.0in 1.0in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} --> Center for American Progress Action Fund, an organization of more than 11,000 physicians in support of healthcare reform, said he relishes his role leading the U.S. effort to reform its costly and sometimes inefficient healthcare system.

“I’ve never attempted a challenge as great as this,” Baucus noted. “I can’t remember when I have done something with such great relish. I get a kick out of this.”

In mid-November, the newly re-elected Baucus announced his Call to Action Plan to reform the U.S. healthcare system.

Goals of his plan include healthcare coverage for all Americans, lower healthcare costs and improved quality of healthcare. However, Baucus is not offering a short-term fix. “This is a 10-, 11-year plan. This is strategic,” Baucus said during Monday’s teleconference.

“And a real goal here is to provide access and high quality health insurance and affordable; we wonder if that can be accomplished through the inter-connecter exchange system and with subsidies efficient for economic health for those who otherwise couldn’t pay for it and also with very strong health insurance reform, that is, with guaranteed issue, and a public option might be an enforcer to help make that happen but these are all questions that we are working through right now,” he said.

Vivek Murthy, MD, a practicing clinician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, and president and co-founder of Doctors of America, also unveiled a national campaign by the grassroots group he leads. The campaign, called Voices of Physicians, is soliciting doctor concerns and priorities for healthcare reform, and putting links to these concerns on an interactive map.

Baucus said that everyone’s ideas are on the table, and that he hopes his Senate committee can propose ways to reform the healthcare delivery system, cover more Americans with health insurance and pay for the reforms by mid-June.

Murthy said his group supported Baucus' flexible approach.

“We do think a public plan is worth considering,” Murthy said. “A key priority for us is whatever is put forth does improve access (to healthcare)... Nothing is off the table.”

Diagnostic imaging advocacy group, the Access to Medical Imaging Coalition (AMIC) has endorsed the Finance Committee’s proposal to provide universal coverage to all Americans as well as its support of appropriateness criteria for imaging services. The organization said it also strongly supports the establishment of a nationwide Diagnostic Imaging Exchange Network (DIEN) that would would allow physicians to access a patient’s past imaging studies in order to determine the necessity, safety and appropriateness of ordering a new scan.

Path forward

Baucus said his committee will probably review two or three alternatives, such as the healthcare exchange system in Massachusetts, which requires consumers to purchase a private plan that meets government-established minimum standards.

“Otherwise, it's going to be difficult to pass the Senate,” he said. “It has to be bicameral and bipartisan.”

Baucus made clear that he’s not endorsing a solely government-funded healthcare system, sometimes called single-payor, but rather a combination of private and public healthcare entities will likely be needed to cover all Americans.

Baucus said that hearings on healthcare reform, scheduled for today and May 14, “are where the rubber meets the road,” Baucus said. “Our economy is in crisis, and healthcare reform is the only way we are going to get it back on track. What we hammer out at these roundtables is going to be the cornerstone of the legislation that we pass in coming months.”

He also noted that any viable solution for U.S. healthcare reform must embrace a plurality of interests.

“We also have to remember, this is America. We have to come up with a uniquely American solution. We’re not Canada, we’re not Switzerland, or Brazil; we are the United States of America. We spend about $2.4 [trillion] to $2.5 trillion on healthcare in America a year; it’s pretty much half public, half private. And we are going to have to have a uniquely American solution here that works. It’s a political process.”