Later On

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Obama on healthcare

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Mike Lillis reports for the Washington Independent:

It wasn’t the most eloquent line of the speech, nor is it likely to make many headlines this week, but President Barack Obama’s Tuesday-night pronouncement that Medicare reform can’t happen without an overhaul of the nation’s entire health-care system marked a stark departure from the popular Washington notion that the country’s long-term budget crisis could be solved by slashing entitlement spending alone.

“Comprehensive health care reform,” Obama said is his address to a joint session of Congress, “is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come.”

That thinking will likely have sweeping policy implications as lawmakers debate steps to keep the country solvent in the face of projections that federal spending is on an unsustainable path, largely due to the skyrocketing costs of Medicare and Medicaid. Many observers have used those projections to identify an “entitlement crisis,” encompassing not only the federal health care programs, but Social Security as well.

To address this “crisis,” Congress has dabbled perennially at the edges of Medicare in hopes of trimming costs; conservatives have pushed plans to privatize Social Security; and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have proposed the formation of commissions charged with reforming the entitlement programs to put them on a path to solvency. Critics view these proposals as backdoor efforts to slash Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Obama’s statement Tuesday is some indication that the White House has rejected the bundled “entitlement crisis” argument, and will instead approach the nation’s budget challenges by tackling the surging, across-the-board costs in health care, which, at current rates, would bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid. The broader approach, many experts say, is vital to fixing the problem.

“[T]he nation faces a daunting health care financing problem that bedevils private insurers and public programs alike,” Henry Aaron, a health policy expert at the Brookings Institution, wrote this week on Brookings’ Website. “The distinction is critical. How the problem is defined will determine whether the debate on how to solve it has any real chance of succeeding.”

There is little dispute that Washington faces severe long-term budget troubles and that rising health care costs are at the root of the problem. A federal report released this week indicates that health care spending will rise by 6.2 percent per year over the next decade — 2.1 percentage points higher than the economy is projected to grow over the same span…

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Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2009 at 12:27 pm

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