On November 12, 2008, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus released a white paper entitled "Call to Action: Health Reform 2009." The document details Senator Baucus’ goals for health care reform in the broad areas of coverage, quality, and cost. Highlights of the lengthy plan include the following.

  • Ensuring Health Coverage for All Americans. The Baucus plan seeks universal health insurance coverage by supplementing the current employer-based system with a nationwide insurance pool called the Health Insurance Exchange. Premium subsidies would be available to qualifying families and small businesses. While the Exchange is being created, individuals aged 55 to 64 could buy in to Medicare, and access would be expanded to Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Once affordable health insurance options are available, all individuals would be required to have insurance coverage.
  • Improving Value by Reforming the Health Care Delivery System. Among other things, the plan calls for strengthening the role of primary care and chronic care management; refocusing payment incentives toward quality and value; and encouraging providers in different settings to collaborate in a way that improves quality and saves money (e.g., gainsharing). As part of the payment reforms, Baucus calls for overhaul of the Medicare physician fee schedule formula, greater surveillance of high-growth services, expanded use of pay-for-performance methodologies, and global payments for services provided to a patient during hospitalization and post-discharge. The Baucus plan also seeks to improve the health care infrastructure by supporting comparative effectiveness research through a new Health Care Comparative Effectiveness Research Institute and by promoting the adoption of health information technology.
  • Financing a More Efficient Health Care System. The Baucus plan seeks to prevent Medicare fraud, waste, and abuse through: more stringent enrollment criteria; enactment of payment methodologies that discourage waste (such as the DMEPOS competitive bidding program); encouraging provider and supplier compliance; vigilant government oversight of government health programs; and strong punishment for program abuses. The plan also seeks to increase transparency in the health system by mandating disclosure of gifts and other transfers of value made by drug and device companies to physicians and other health care professionals; increasing scrutiny of physician self-referrals (including a focus on physician-owned hospitals); and requiring public reporting and disclosure of health care price and quality information. With regard to private plans in Medicare, the Baucus plan also would address overpayments to Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, promote performance measures for Part D prescription drug plans and the application of pay-for-performance principles to these plans, and extend Medicaid price discounts to the drugs used by the dual-eligible population in the Part D program. In addition, the plan addresses long-term care reforms, including policies to continue to shift care from institutional settings to home and community settings, malpractice reform, and reforms of the tax code designed to make incentives more efficient, distribute benefits more fairly, and promote smarter consumer spending of health care dollars.

Health care reform promises to be a high-profile issue for the new Congress and the incoming Obama Administration. The broad scope of the Baucus white paper suggests that Congress intends to focus beyond access to insurance or the immediate problem of fixing the Medicare physician fee schedule and examine fundamental policy questions concerning how to promote quality and value throughout the health system at a time of limited federal resources.