Health Law Machinations

Last week, President Obama said he was open to the idea of some changes to the health reform law.  Republicans say they’re ready to see whether it was just a bunch of political talk.

As early as this week, parliamentary wrangling could start in the Senate on GOP efforts to force a vote on a House-passed bill that would repeal the health reform law.

Republicans also want to force action on changes that the President himself singled out last week, like medical liability reform.

“We’re going to find out whether the trial lawyers run this place,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who pressed Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week to put some meat on the bones of the President’s words by making it clear what changes the Obama Administration might support.

“The President told the American people Tuesday night that this is an issue that needs to be addressed,” McCain added.

But most Democrats in the Congress – and many of their supporters who are trial lawyers – have long opposed the idea of placing limits on medical liability judgments as a way to save money.

Republicans point to a Congressional Budget Office study during the health reform debate, which said that tort reform would reduce health care costs, but it never had a real chance to find its way into the final health reform law.

The idea has already been explored in a House hearing, and seems likely to win approval at some point in the House.

But getting it into legislation that can make it through the Senate – that is a different story.

Along those lines, this week could bring the first opportunity for Republicans to use guerilla parliamentary tactics in their bid to force votes on the health reform law repeal, as well as other issues like medical liability reform and changes in the 1099 tax reporting requirements included in the law.

A bill to repeal that provision now has over 60 co-sponsors in the Senate, showing its bipartisan popularity.

The one 1099 question that hasn’t been answered is how to replace the estimated $19 billion over 10 years that would be brought in from extra tax revenue collections.

While the President has made clear he is willing to consider minor changes and clarifications, he also let his supporters know last week that change for the sake of change will not get his backing.

“I am not willing to re-fight the battles of the last two years,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on Friday morning.

While the President might not be interested in a replay of those political battles, many in the Republican party do want a replay, which could lead to some interesting times ahead.

While we wait for this battle to develop further in the Congress, there have been reports that we could get a ruling as early as today in the heatlh care lawsuit brought by the state of Florida, and supported by almost half the states.

Many expect the federal judge in Florida will side with the states and find – as in a similar Virginia case – that the individual mandate which forces people to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

We live in interesting times.