Health care reform just took a dramatic and unexpected turn.
Only a few weeks ago it seemed that the Congress was about to complete action on a fundamental overhaul of health care financing and delivery in America, and send this legislation to President Obama, so that he could sign and complete his top domestic policy priority before his first State of the Union Address.
But . the special election in Massachusetts, to fill the seat held for decades by Senator Edward Kennedy – astounded the nation and upended the plans for health reform. Scott Brown was elected – the first Republican to hold this seat since 1952!
This surprising election had many ramifications – but two were uppermost – the Senate Democrats now number 59, no longer can they end a filibuster and have their way; and elected officials around the country, especially Democratic House and Senate members, were asking themselves if they should back away from health reform, lest they suffer the same fate.
For a few days, there were several creative scenarios debated – ways for the Congress still to get health reform done quickly. However, now it seems that has quieted down, and it looks like this will be dragged out much longer.
Will we ultimately see big time health reform this year? I wish I were more optimistic – but I think the chances are now much less than 50-50. As I have repeatedly said – in this blog and elsewhere – we badly need to overhaul how we pay for and deliver health care, so that we cover the uninsured, do so at lower cost and with consistent quality and safety.
It is more likely now that we will see some more modest reform of health insurance, some expansion of Medicaid, and the launch of some demonstration projects for delivery reform. Those are not insignificant – we need to do them, but the disappointment is palpable. What could have been was much more.
My short-term prediction is that health reform will go quiet for several weeks – as the congressional leaders try to work out a smaller package behind the scenes. They will bring it forward only if and when they have it worked out and they are confident that they can get it done.
Once again – stay tuned. Maybe much longer.