Changing Chairs (Without the Music) in the Senate

Washington insiders and business interests in several industries are keeping a close eye on what happens as a result of last month’s death of longtime Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy. The question is who will be the new permanent chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), who guided health care overhaul legislation through HELP as acting chairman, must decide whether to remain as head of the Banking Committee or make the move to HELP. He cannot serve as chair for both.

Bankers are apparently hoping Dodd makes the latter choice. They say Dodd has taken a hardline approach against their industry in an effort to boost his sagging poll numbers as he approaches re-election. If Dodd moves on, Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) would likely be offered the Banking Committee chairmanship. Johnson would be expected to be a more moderate influence on the panel.

An outside possibility has Iowa’s Tom Harkin giving up leadership of the Agriculture Committee to take over HELP.

Stay tuned. Decisions should be made soon.

Health Care Reform Train Ready to Roll

A group of key stakeholders that has been meeting for months is apparently ready today to release its broad-based tenets for fixing what ails the nation’s health care system. The Healthcare Reform Dialogue, a self-given title, is expected to call for:

  • More individual responsibility
  • Tax credits to help individuals afford health coverage
  • Expanding Medicaid eligibility
  • Improving the Medicare payment system with a focus on prevention and care coordination
  • Increasing funding to train more primary care physicians (with loan repayment programs part of the deal)

Unanswered are the thorny questions of creating a public health care plan that would compete with private insurance companies or potential mandates on employers to provide health insurance. I think this simply foreshadows what a tough fight lies ahead.

Participants in the group represent insurers, physicians, hospitals, business, family organizations and unions. Many of the same people are talking with staffers for Sen. Edward Kennedy, chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. It’s that panel that will tackle the more difficult topics.

Key questions: Do we really want a government-run health system? How will the employer-based system, put in place at the end of World War II but not viable in many ways today, be adapted? And where is the money going to come from?

The Chamber’s next BizVoice magazine (debuting in early May) will have several interesting health care stories, including a roundtable with Indiana perspectives on reform and how everyone is going to have to "give a little" to make it a reality.