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 elections.
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.