Health care reform rises to top of priority list

Tuesday - 2/17/2009, 5:44pm EST

WFED's Jason Miller reports

Health care reform rises to top of priority list

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
FederalNewsRadio

The reformation of the country's health care system is one of the next priorities for President Barack Obama and Congress, and the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services will be at the center of this effort.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), a member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, called HHS's role crucial to health care reform.

In the stimulus bill signed into law today, Congress is requiring agencies to provide training and dissemination of information on best practices to integrate health IT for Medicare and Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) providers.

Lawmakers also are calling on HHS to help other health care providers adopt electronic health records by establishing in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT a program to provide assistance services.

Becerra calls the S-CHIP program, the stimulus bill provisions around health IT and the requirement to do comparative effectiveness analysis as key pieces of the foundation for health care reform.

"HHS will become the principle receptacle for information," says Becerra after a speech at the recent National Health Policy Conference in Washington. "Those are the kinds of architecture activities we can undertake to make the system better and ready for the universal reform that is necessary."

He adds that the current public option is not well integrated and inefficient. He says Medicare, Medicaid, S-CHIP and Veterans are all part of that public option.

"We are great at inventing things, but we are not good at executing, Becerra says. "If we could figure out way to better use what we invent, we would be far better off."

Becerra says the House and Senate will wait to hear from the White House before moving legislation on health care reform. He adds that template will come from the President and Congress will work within that framework.

"We can do health care reform you just have to be smart in the way you do it," he says. "We have to save where we are overspending and make a few additional investments."

Becerra says he would like to see the House pass its bill in the summer so the Senate can begin working on health care reform by the fall.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee, says health care reform is his top priority now that the stimulus bill is finished. Baucus says he will work with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, on this issue.

The Finance committee held 10 hearings on health care reform last session looking at different aspects of the issue.

He also in November released a white paper on the health care reform to communicate his own vision for change.

"Real action is long overdue and action is nearly inevitable," Baucus says. "We need to come up with a uniquely American result - a combination of public and private insurance."

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On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio - Health Care Reform: Good For the Feds!

FederalNewsRadio - OPM in the hotseat over health care

Senate Finance Committee - White Paper on health care reform

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