- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

COLUMN:

Health care reform delay?

President Obama’s promise to push for an overhaul of the country’s health care system is taking a temporary back seat to the pressing matters of aiding the slumping economy.

The $800 billion-plus economic rescue package has dominated Congress so far this year, and though the proposal includes billions of dollars in medical spending, a comprehensive health care reform package could slip into next year, some on Capitol Hill say.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, speaking last week at a conference sponsored by Families USA, said he was committed to helping establish a universal health care system. Nevertheless, the Maryland Democrat was cautious on a time frame, promising only to “bring comprehensive reform to the floor of the 111th Congress,” which concludes in January 2011.

He also was fuzzy on how such a proposed system would look, saying that “the answer to that question is still taking shape.”

“There are some major questions that remain to be answered - questions about mandates, changes to the tax code and insurance reform,” Mr. Hoyer said.

He added that Democrats pledge to work with Republicans on crafting health care reform. “As history has demonstrated, there’s no surer way to lose public support than working through this process in the dark.”

The top House lawmaker in charge of writing health care legislation said Thursday that he is committed to passing a universal health care package by the end of the year.

“This is our time; we need to move forward, we need to get this job accomplished this year and get the bill to the president,” said California’s Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, at the conference Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Senate last week passed a $32 billion expansion of the State Children’s Heath Insurance Program, or SCHIP, sending the bill to the president after the House passed the measure in early January.

The program is a federal-state initiative for families that don’t qualify for health care through Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance.

The president has said he will sign the bill, though the White House on Monday said no signing date has been set.

Help for “tweener” hospitals proposed

Sen. Charles E. Grassley introduced legislation last week designed to strengthen the health care delivery system in rural communities.

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