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Look for Incremental Insurance Reform Steps With New Congress

Look for Incremental Insurance Reform Steps With New Congress

WASHINGTON--Republican control of the US Congress means that the
chance for comprehensive health-care reform, as envisioned by
the Clinton administration, is over. But incremental changes to
the health-care system, including insurance reforms that limit
or exclude preexisting condition clauses, may gain significant
support, says Stacey Beckhardt, of the American Society of Clinical
Oncology (ASCO).

The midterm election victory gave the Republican party a 230 to
204 seat advantage in the House and a 53 to 47 margin in the Senate.
As a result, the Republican Congress is likely to adhere to its
"Contract with America," which was signed by more than
300 Republicans on the steps of the Capitol prior to the November

That agenda includes measures to cut taxes, increase defense spending,
and reduce government waste, said Ms. Beckhardt, ASCO's director
of government relations. Oncology News International asked Ms.
Beckhardt and other experts to predict what a Republican Congress
may mean for health-care reform and oncology-related issues in
coming months.

It is possible that Senate Republicans will pursue smaller health-care
reform initiatives, such as malpractice reform and insurance reform,
including portability of insurance, small group reform, and limits
on preexisting conditions, Ms. Beckhardt said.

Moreover, Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan)--and a number of other Republican
senators--have presidential ambitions, so it is likely that the
Republicans will try to "do something" on health care,
Ms. Beckhardt said.

Martha McNeil, of the American Cancer Society (ACS), agreed that
insurance reform has a good chance of passage in Congress. But
it is not a priority with most Senate Republicans, so it will
not happen right away, said Ms. McNeil, legislative representative
for the ACS national public issues office. Eliminating preexisting
condition clauses from insurance benefits is an important issue
for many cancer patients, so it is "distressing" that
insurance reform is not at the top of the congressional agenda,
she said.

In the House, designated House Speaker, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga),
has proposed significant changes to various committees that challenge
the seniority system of that institution, Ms. Beckhardt said,
and it is difficult to predict what these changes may mean for
health-care reform.


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