Health Reform Headlines: ‘Romneycare,’ Medicare Debate, High-Risk Insurance Pools

‘Romneycare’ Strikes Back

Shortly after Mitt Romney launched his official bid for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, he raised one of the issues likely to haunt his bid for the White House: health care reform.

In his announcement speech at a farm in Stratham, N.H., Romney defended the universal health care law he helped pass as governor of Massachusetts. And he railed against the Affordable Care Act for flying in the face of states’ rights:

I took on this problem and hammered out a solution that took a bad situation and made it better — not perfect, but it was a state solution to our state’s problem.”

“I will insist that Washington learns to respect the Constitution, including the 10th Amendment. We will return responsibility and authority to the states for dozens of government programs — and that begins with a complete repeal of Obamacare.”

Criticism came quickly and from all directions. The Democratic National Committee rejuvenated the "flip flop refrain." Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani called Romney’s plan his “problem.” And just hours before the announcement, Sarah Palin fired a shot at Romney during a stop on her bus tour at Bunker Hill in Massachusetts.

On the NewsHour Thursday, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza spoke with Judy Woodruff about Romney’s “biggest liability.”

Medicare Talk Boosts Health Care Reform Law

Already blamed for an electoral loss in New York, the Republican plan to transform Medicare now appears to be responsible for a larger political shift, according to two new studies.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday found that 58 percent of Americans oppose the Republican plan, while 35 percent support it. Among seniors, the opposition rises to 74 percent. That study also shows that the number of Americans who say that Republican control of the House is good for the country has dropped below the 50 percent mark – a first since their electoral resurgence last November.

Once Americans get to know what’s in the plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, they appear to like it even less, according to a poll released Wednesday by Anzalone Liszt Research on behalf of the pro-reform groups Herndon Alliance and Know Your Care. After hearing a “neutral description” of the Republican plan, support for the health care law rose three points, to 45 percent.

Center for American Progress director Neera Tanden, who works closely with Know Your Care, spoke with POLITICO:

“What we learned from the poll is a lot of people don’t know about the House Republican budget and what they know they don’t like. What this does is it opens up a conversation with the American people about the Affordable Care Act. Once people recognize that attacks on the ACA come from people who oppose it for political gain, and that there are real benefits in the law, it’s not what its critics said it would be, there is more support for it.”

Ryan Pushes Back

Rep. Ryan went head-to-head on the Medicare debate with President Obama during a closed-door meeting at the White House Wednesday, with Ryan suggesting that the president had engaged in “demagoguery,” according to reports.

The president reportedly shot back that “the demagoguery runs on both sides.”

The meeting in the East Room of the White House was designed to help lay the groundwork for compromise on the debt limit and spending. Republican officials reported that House Speaker John Boehner and other leaders pressed Mr. Obama on Medicare, “contending he had not put forward any plan to save it from going bankrupt,” according to the Associated Press.

Insurance Prices Plummet for High-Risk Pools

Premiums for individuals with pre-existing conditions will drop by as much as 40 percent in nearly two dozen states, the Obama administration announced Tuesday.

The move – designed to boost enrollment in the plans and to bring premiums closer to the amount healthy people pay in the individual market – will also lower restrictions on who qualifies. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said premiums for high-risk people in Virginia could drop by as much as $1,200 a year.

The federal government operates plans in 23 states and the District of Columbia. The remaining states run their own high-risk pools and will be asked by HHS to drop their rates and eligibility requirements in a similar fashion.

To participate, interested individuals will now only need a note from a doctor, nurse or physician’s assistant rather than a letter from an insurer showing that they had been denied coverage.

Only 18,000 people have signed up for the plans so far – a fraction of the 375,000 health advocates had hoped would receive coverage.

 Medicaid Cuts Off Cash for Mistakes

Medicaid will no longer pay for hospitals to operate on the wrong body part, cut open the wrong patient, or perform an operation that leads to a surgical-site infection. Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, announced Wednesday that the federal program for the elderly and disabled would cut off funds for so-called “never-events” in hospitals starting in July 2012.

See a full list of the preventable conditions Medicaid will no longer cover here, via Kaiser Health News. From Berwick:

“These steps will encourage health professionals and hospitals to reduce preventable infections, and eliminate serious medical errors. As we reduce the frequency of these conditions, we will improve care for patients and bring down costs at the same time.”

According to KHN, about 21 states already follow this nonpayment policy, and the new regulation will simply expand it nationwide. A similar rule has been in place for Medicare since 2008.

"Doctors were billing Medicare $130 a week to visit my mom. I went to the nursing home on days when they were scheduled to see patients. But they never came. Once, when I asked about this, one nurse told me quietly “the doctors don’t actually see the patients. They check the charts and leave.”"

NewsHour Health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser reflects on her mother’s care in the Medicare system.