- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

Momentum for universal health care picked up a bit of steam this week when several Republicans from the House and Senate joined Democrats in backing a bill aimed at guaranteeing health care coverage for all.

The bill’s primary author, Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, introduced the measure earlier this year. This week, it gained the support of Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican; and Reps. Brian Baird, Washington Democrat, and Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican.

Though guaranteed coverage for the 46 million uninsured Americans remains a distant reality, the new bipartisan support may indicate Congress will begin work on health care reform this year rather than wait for the outcome of the presidential election.

Mr. Wyden’s legislation would essentially wipe out employer-sponsored health coverage. Under the bill, private health insurers would provide coverage to individuals directly, rather than through employers, and employers would initially shift funds currently used to pay for coverage to employee wages.

Over time, employers would pay the federal government a health insurance contribution. The legislation would require individuals to use the funds contributed by employers to buy through state purchasing pools private health insurance, which would provide coverage at the same level as the BlueCross BlueShield Standard Plan offered to federal employees.

“This bill is not perfect, but it is the perfect bill to jump-start this important dialogue,” said Mr. Bennett.

The bill would save $1.48 trillion over 10 years through competition among insurance providers, Mr. Wyden says. And he asserts that, as written, it would be fully paid for by using the $2.2 trillion the country currently spends on health care.

In other news …

• Some personnel announcements were made by the White House yesterday. Kerry Weems will be nominated as the next administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Mr. Weems currently serves as deputy chief of staff at the Department of Health and Human Services. Before this, he served as the acting assistant secretary for budget, technology and finance and as chief financial officer for HHS.

Also, the president will nominate Tevi Troy to be deputy secretary of health and human services. Dr. Troy currently serves as deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy. Previously, he served as special assistant to the president and deputy Cabinet secretary.

Lastly, and the president did not have a hand in this move, Bill Thomas, a powerful health care figure as the former House Ways and Means Committee chairman, joined Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, the Washington, D.C., law firm announced this week. Mr. Thomas’ title with the firm will be that of senior adviser in the Federal Government Relations Section.

But this is not a lobbying role for the ex-chairman, who is considered an expert on health care, trade and tax policy.

Rather, his will be an advising role in which he can stay close to his former colleagues on Capitol Hill. Remember, lobbying laws dictate a one-year hiatus for former lawmakers from talking about policy matters with members of Congress. If it was a lobbying position, Mr. Thomas would be breaking a promise he issued at the end of his 24-year run representing California, that he would not become a lobbyist.

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

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