Canton Repository

January 18, 2007

Voinovich pushes health-care bill that would rely on states

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service


WASHINGTON Sen. George Voinovich has joined with other lawmakers from both parties who doubt Congress will agree on comprehensive health-care reform anytime soon and now are pushing what they hope is the next-best solution.

They introduced legislation Wednesday that would encourage states to experiment with their own approaches to providing coverage to those who lack health insurance.

More than 45 million Americans are without health coverage at some point during the span of a year.

Voinovich, R-Cleveland, called extending coverage to the uninsured "the greatest domestic challenge that this nation faces" during a press conference to discuss the legislation. "It's about time we do something about it," he added.

DETAILS OF LEGISLATION

The legislation would encourage states to come up with their own plans to provide health coverage by making it possible to obtain waivers from federal laws that regulate the use of tax money from Washington.

It also would provide grants to cover some costs of new programs.

Under the proposal, a bipartisan state health innovation commission would review health-care proposals submitted by states, groups of states or portions of states.

The commission would determine which proposals are the most promising and ask Congress to provide financial support for those.

Several states - including Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts - already have implemented their own health-care plans that provide subsidies for low-income individuals. Ohio soon could join them.

STRICKLAND'S VIEW

Gov. Ted Strickland pledged during his campaign to seek a federal waiver allowing the state to get additional federal funds, which would be used to provide subsidies for uninsured individuals to purchase private health insurance.

Strickland's proposal would provide coverage to an estimated 300,000 Ohioans whose incomes are modest but not low enough to qualify for Medicaid, the federal health-care plan for the poor.

Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said he didn't know if the Voinovich proposal would provide a platform for Strickland's waiver request - or whether Strickland could more easily get approval for his plan outside of the proposed legislation.

The governor has not said when he will seek the waiver.

Voinovich and other lawmakers contend that no major health-care reform will pass Congress because there's no consensus on the best approach.

For example, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., one of the sponsors of the House bill, said she favors a single payer system run by the government. Other lawmakers prefer market-based approaches, such as health savings accounts that give consumers an incentive to shop around for the best price.

"No single approach has enough support to become law," Baldwin said.

VOINOVICH ON REFORM

Voinovich said it's unrealistic to think Congress will pass a major health-care reform bill before the 2008 election.

But he explained that if his plan is approved, it will generate "real good ideas" from the states that could be tested and eventually might lead to a consensus in Congress.

In the meantime, the legislation would result in increased health-care coverage, he said.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., joined Voinovich in introducing the Senate version of the plan. Reps. Tom Price, R-Ga., and John Tierney, D-Mass., co-sponsored the House bill with Baldwin.

The legislation is similar to bills that were introduced last year but failed to get a hearing in the House or Senate.