Health on the Hill: What Health Legislation Can We Expect from the New Congress?

December 19, 2002

The 107th Congress adjourned with many health issues unresolved. The House passed a Medicare drug bill, but the Senate didn’t follow suit. Medicare provider givebacks likewise got through the House, but not the Senate. The Senate, but not the House, passed a bill to restrain health costs by making generic versions of prescriptions drugs available sooner. Tax incentives for health insurance that would have been part of an economic stimulus package never saw the light of day.

But times may be changing. President Bush, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott all have said health care legislation will get a high priority in the new Congress. Administration officials say the president’s 2004 budget will again include tax credits to help people buy individual coverage, perhaps as much as the $89 billion over 10 years his last budget.

Is a Medicare drug bill now a foregone conclusion? If so, what’s likely to pass? Will Democrats and Republicans move to help the uninsured, by building on the bipartisan spirit that enacted a tax credit to help those who lose jobs and health coverage as a result of trade treaties? Will tort reform finally pass with Republicans in the driver’s seat? How will the quickening pace of the presidential campaign affect health legislation?

To address these and related questions, the Alliance for Health Reform sponsored a December 19, 2002 briefing, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Panelists included: Bobby Jindal, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at HHS; Dean Rosen, Republican staff director of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Health; Bridgett Taylor, a Democratic staff member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Linda Fishman, Republican health policy director of the Senate Finance Committee; and Debbie Curtis, chief of staff for Rep. Pete Stark (D –Calif.). Ed Howard, Alliance executive vice president, moderated the discussion.

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