Ex-Senate Majority Leader Predicts Democrats Will Aggressively Push Reform

In recent weeks, laboratory professionals got a ringside seat to hear a true Washington insider discuss key issues in healthcare reform. Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, told lab industry executives and pathologists that Congress faces three significant hurdles as it attempts to reform the healthcare system. The first—and perhaps most significant—hurdle involves costs, he said. Daschle is currently a Senior Policy Advisor at Alston and Bird, a law firm in Washington, D.C.

“Cost is a huge political factor,” stated Daschle during a recent audio conference conducted by the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA) on June 24. “Of all of the factors, cost is driving this debate as much if not more than any [other single factor]. We are looking at an investment cost of about $1 trillion to put this new infrastructure in place and that is an issue of great concern.” Daschle explained that the other two hurdles are quality of care and access to healthcare.

Tom Daschle, Official Senate PhotoTom Daschle
Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader

Despite these hurdles, Daschle believes healthcare reform has better than a 50% chance of passing this year. “I can’t predict how it will play out but history is being made as we speak. It’s fair to say we are making some progress,” he commented. “We have a long way to go but I am optimistic about our prospects for successful and meaningful health care reform in 2009.”

For lab directors and pathologists, any reform of the healthcare system is likely to change the status quo for laboratory testing services in the United States. It’s a simple math formula. Congress must find and cut spending in existing government health programs to free up the funds needed to pay for healthcare reform. Congress is likely to reduce existing reimbursement rates to providers, including physicians, hospitals, and laboratories. For this reason, clinical lab managers and pathologists should track the different Congressional health reform proposals and how each calls for cutbacks in spending on existing laboratory testing services.

Cutting $1 trillion will require a variety of changes. “I don’t know that anyone can say with any certainty that they have the right mix, but we know we have only three options: You can add revenue, make cuts, or increase modernization,” Daschle observed during the ACLA audio conference. “We will need to dip into all three of those buckets in order to come up with $1 trillion. As I talk to my former colleagues [in Congress], it appears that this is their understanding of the problem as well.”

In comments after the audio conference, ACLA President Alan Mertz advised lab directors and pathologists to stay informed on the issue. “Senator Daschle’s comments drove home for me the importance of the laboratory community having a strong presence on Capitol Hill, educating Congress about the value of laboratory services, and making sure that laboratory reimbursement is not cut to pay for health reform.”

Alan Mertz of ACLA

Alan Mertz
President, American Clinical Laboratory Association

“In addition, the senator was clear that the financing of the health reform bill will come from ‘cuts to government health programs’ such as Medicare as well as revenue increases and other savings,” Mertz added. “Any proposal to cut existing government health program spending obviously bears watching.”

Mertz believes that Congress will find a way to pass a bill this year. “I thought his [Daschle’s] analysis of how the bill would move in the Senate was very astute, suggesting that Democrats would try to move a bipartisan bill all the way until the August recess,” Mertz explained. “But, if Democrats can’t make it a bipartisan bill by that date, they will then move healthcare reform legislation on the budget track. That will allow Democrats to use the reconciliation budget process which requires only 51 senate votes (instead of 60).”

ACLA’s audio conference featuring Tom Daschle provided a unique inside view on the unfolding process to reform healthcare. Dark Daily believes the two most important insights from Daschle’s comments were: 1) the essential need to cut spending in different areas of government health plans to provide the funds necessary to finance reforms to healthcare; and, 2) Daschle’s expectation that the Democrats would abandon a bipartisan strategy if a reform bill hadn’t progressed prior to the August congressional recess, and, after that date, that Democrats would shift the healthcare reform legislation into the reconciliation budget process where fewer votes are necessary to pass it in the Senate.  

Related Information:

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Obama’s town hall: If you’re into healthcare, this transcript’s for you