Why the Senate bill is better than the House bill on cost control
The Senate Finance Committee's bill, which will be quite close to the merged Senate bill, allows you to tell three credible stories on cost control that the House bill simply doesn't.
The first comes from the excise tax on high-cost health insurance plans. The idea here is simple enough: you're taxing any growth in health-care premiums that's faster than the rate of growth in GDP plus one percentage point, which is going to make people a lot less accepting of premium increases and unchecked growth. This is, in the simplest sense of the term, a cost control. In theory, it controls costs by taxing one of the drivers of cost growth into submission. It is, by far, the policy economists are most united on, and the one that works in the most straightforward and blunt way.
The second comes from the newly formed Medicare Commission, which is a lot stronger than people realize. The idea isn't simply that a panel of experts gets to dream up interesting reforms to try out in Medicare. It's that they are charged with making sure that Medicare hits certain growth targets, and their package of reforms has to achieve that goal. Those reforms are then sent to Congress, where Senate debate is limited to 30 hours, and amendments must be both budget neutral and "germane." This report, in other words, is exempt from the filibuster. So far as anything is ever easy to pass, this is easy to pass. If Congress cannot manage action even within this streamlined process, then it simply cannot cut health-care costs at all, and our federal government will go bankrupt.
The third is the delivery-system reforms. The House bill has these too, though they're a bit weaker. They key alchemy, however, is the interplay of the delivery-system reforms and the MedPAC commission. The Senate builds in a lot of pathways by which an idea that starts in Medicare through the commission and proves successful can be brought to pilot and then brought to scale across the health-care system. Medicare serves as the laboratory, but other institutions created in the bill serve as the factory.
All three of those stories make sense, and any of them, on their own, would represent the most significant effort at cost control in a generation, if not ever.
Photo credit: By Harry Hamburg/Associated Press
November 16, 2009; 3:58 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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