- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

Last year may be remembered as the year health care resurfaced as the top domestic issue facing Americans, but it will also be remembered as a year of lost opportunity.

Health care research organizations such as Mercer Health Benefits and the Kaiser Family Foundation once again rolled out dismal projections on health care costs to companies — each firm predicting yet another increase of around 6 percent in premiums paid by businesses. And once again, the portion of health care costs paid by workers rose at twice the rate of inflation, as it will likely do this year.

The Census Bureau reported that the number of uninsured grew to 47 million in 2006, a 2.2. million jump from the year before.

And in states such as California, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Illinois, where lawmakers proposed major health care reform plans that promised vast increases in the number of people covered by a health plan, none finished 2007 with a signed bill.

“Health care reform is hard to fund; it’s the money. I think the hope is that even the states that didn’t go forward are tying to do things via the baby-step approach,” said Joy Johnson Wilson, health policy director for the National Conference of State Legislators.

In California, a bellwether state for health care reform, legislation that seeks to bring about near universal coverage has bipartisan support but is unlikely to become a reality because of Senate opposition and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s insistence that residents and businesses pick up most of the $14 billion cost.

Normally, in a non-election year, legislation is easier to enact, but at the federal level, there was a bruising battle over SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which had strong bipartisan support for the program, but the president twice vetoed a reauthorization bill. A bill was finally signed to extend the program only to March 2009, at current funding levels.

“Despite a rare consensus reached by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the American public, President Bush decided to oppose health care for low-income children and vetoed the measure. The bill’s $35 billion in spending constituted less than one-quarter of one percent of the 2008 federal budget,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a children’s advocacy organization. “The president’s veto of the children’s health bill will be remembered as a sorely missed opportunity to support a reasonable compromise supported by Democrats, Republicans and to carry out the priorities of the American public.”

In other health news

The Food and Drug Administration moved to prevent the drug-resistant staph infection known as MRSA, which can cause potentially deadly infections, by approving a new blood test.

MRSA was first identified in 1960 and was mainly found in hospitals and nursing homes. In the late 1990s, a new type of MRSA was identified. This type of MRSA has become more common among children and adults and made headlines in 2007 when it started hitting more and more healthy people.

Becton, Dickinson & Co., the global medical technology company, is cashing in after the FDA approved its rapid blood test to identify the deadly staph infection. Shares of the company hit a record high Wednesday.

c Health Care runs on Fridays. Contact Gregory Lopes at 202/636-4892 or glopes@washingtontimes.com.

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