HEALTH CARE REPORT: This week on Capitol Hill

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The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a vote for Tuesday on President Obama’s nominee for health and human services secretary, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a key step in filling a vacancy that has become a political sore spot for Mr. Obama.

The committee will vote on sending Mrs. Sebelius’ nomination to the full Senate. She is expected to win confirmation despite protests from anti-abortion activists over campaign money she secured from a Kansas abortion doctor.

Lawmakers want Mrs. Sebelius in place quickly as they get to work on legislation overhauling the nation’s costly health care system.

Mrs. Sebelius is Mr. Obama’s second choice for the post after former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle withdrew in a tax controversy.

The committee also on Tuesday will host the first of three round-table meetings between senators and health care industry experts in preparation for drafting a health care reform package later this year.

The meeting will focus on the delivery of health care services. Round tables scheduled for May will focus on increasing access to health care coverage and how best to pay for overhauling the nation’s health care system.

Presidential letter

The American Medical Association last week sent a letter to President Obama offering its support for universal health care coverage but warning that any reform plan must provide for lower-cost health care for all patients.

“The ongoing emphasis on health care from the White House signals that the administration is seizing this historic opportunity to improve the system,” said AMA President Nancy H. Nielsen. “Expanding access to care for all Americans will ensure that people can get the preventive care they need, which will keep them healthy and keep the nation’s long-term health care costs down.”

In the April 13 letter, the AMA also said that while improvements are needed in the employer-based health insurance system, private insurance plans remain an important way “to promote individual choice and ownership of health insurance.”

“Covering the uninsured has been and continues to be a top priority for the AMA,” says the letter, which was signed by Ms. Nielsen and AMA President-elect J. James Rohack. “The AMA has a long-standing policy to expand health insurance coverage and choices to all Americans, regardless of income or health status.”

The AMA also voiced its support for improved health-information technology, for efforts to improve the value the nation gets from its health care spending, and for greater care coordination.

Sick buildings

Many of the nation’s health care facilities are not prepared to protect workers from exposure to pandemic influenza, according to a new report compiled by six major labor unions and the AFL-CIO.

More than one-third of the 104 health care facilities in 14 states surveyed have no written plan for responding to pandemic flu. More than one-third of the survey respondents also said their workplace either is not ready or is only slightly ready to address the health and safety concerns necessary to protect workers during a pandemic.

The pandemic flu preparedness survey, the results of which were released Thursday, was distributed to union leaders across the country who represent health care workers at unionized facilities.

About 43 percent of the respondents said that because of the perceived lack of readiness, some or most of their co-workers would stay home in the event of a pandemic outbreak.

The report, available at www.HealthCareWorkersInPeril.org, calls on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a mandatory standard requiring facilities to protect all health care workers from exposure to pandemic flu.

The survey and report were produced jointly by the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the American Federation of Teachers; the Communications Workers of America; the Service Employees International Union; the United American Nurses; and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

New department hire

The Department of Health and Human Services last week announced the selection of Henry Claypool as director of the agency’s Office on Disability.

Mr. Claypool has 25 years of experience developing and implementing disability policy at the federal, state, and local levels. He also has personal experience with the nation’s health care system from the perspective of a person with a disability.

Mr. Claypool, who sustained a spinal injury more than 25 years ago, has relied on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security disability insurance and Supplemental Security Income, which enabled him to complete his bachelor’s degree at the University of Colorado. He later served as the university’s disability-services director.

Mr. Claypool most recently has served as the policy director at Independence Care System, a managed long-term care provider in New York City.

Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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