It's a pundit's dream to win the president's ear. The Atlantic's own Ron
Brownstein, in a 2,600-word Saturday post on health care reform,
did just that, attracting the attention of the nation's most influential reader, President Obama. Brownstein wrote that the Senate bill on health care reform is a "milestone" for its measures to control costs:
Both the Senate bill's priority on controlling long-term health care costs, and its strategy for doing so, represents a validation for Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT). When Baucus released his health reform proposal last September, after finally terminating months of fruitless negotiations with committee Republicans, Democratic liberals excoriated his plan as a dead end. And on several important fronts--such as subsidies for the uninsured, the role of a public competitor to private insurance companies, and the contribution required from employers who don't insure their workers--[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid moved his product away from Baucus toward approaches preferred by liberals.Politico reports that Obama "declared" that Brownstein's post "was mandatory reading for all senior staff and that everyone involved in, or covering, the health care debate should see the piece." Talking Points Memo adds that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told senior staff "not to come back to the next day's meeting if they hadn't read the article."
But the Reid bill's fiscal strategy, and its vision of how to "bend the curve," almost completely follows Baucus' path from September. Baucus' bill was the first to establish the principle that Congress could expand coverage while reducing the federal deficit; now that's the standard not only for the Senate but also the House reform legislation. And, perhaps even more importantly, the Reid bill maintains virtually all of Baucus ideas' for shifting the medical payment system away from today's fee-for-service model toward an approach that more closely links compensation for providers to results for patients. In the Reid bill, there is some backtracking from Baucus' most aggressive reform proposals, but not much. [...]
The attempt in all these ideas to nudge the medical system away from fee-for-service medicine toward an approach that ties compensation more closely to results captures how much the health care debate has shifted toward cost-control. So far, the rise in health care spending has proven almost invulnerable to every previous attempt to tame it, like the managed care revolution in the 1990s. Even if Obama signs into law a final bill embodying all these reform proposals, many skeptics wonder if they can bend, much less break, the seemingly inexorable increase in health care spending. [Former CBO director Robert] Reischauer understands that skepticism, but isn't able to entirely suppress a kernel of optimism that this latest reform agenda may prove more effective than its predecessors. "One never knows whether we're turning the corner or if this is just playing the same old game for another inning," he says. "But I sense there's something different out there. I think the medical profession and its leaders have read the handwriting on the wall and are trying to evolve." If so, the ideas the Senate will begin voting on tonight could mark a milestone in that journey.