Capitol Hill Report: Heath Care Reform, Brad Pitt, and Wine

March 9, 2009

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By Mike Amery, Legislative Counsel, Federal Affairs, (202) 349-4299, mamery@aan.com

The mission of the Academy is to be "indispensable to its members." One way the Academy fulfills this mission is by representing of neurology in the halls of Congress. Capitol Hill Report presents regular updates on legislative action and how the AAN ensures that the voice of neurology is heard on Capitol Hill. The Academy's legislative counsel in Washington, DC, Mike Amery, offers weekly updates on advocacy for neurology and neurologic concerns.

President Obama held a "Health Summit" on Thursday, March 5, bringing many key industries, advocates, and members of Congress to the White House to start discussions on health care reform. No solid proposals were put forward by the Administration.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) weighed in saying that enacting comprehensive health reform this year is his "top priority," adding that he wants to have a bill ready for debate by "June or July." Baucus says full implementation of comprehensive reform would take up to three years. His bill, which he could co-sponsor with Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), likely would use a blend of public and private options to expand coverage to all US residents.

I met with two Republican members of Congress who were not invited to the health summit. Both are physicians, Charles Boustany, MD, a surgeon from Louisiana and Phil Gingrey, MD, an obstetrician from Georgia, who have strong ideas on health care reform.  As physicians, they both understand the need for a permanent elimination of the failed Sustainable Growth Rate formula that works against physician reimbursement every year. Both also expressed concern the possibility of the federal government becoming an optional provider competing with the private sector for providing health care coverage. Their concern is that the government would not provide choice or quality coverage, but would eventually crowd out the private sector.

Academy Legislative Counsel Mike Amery (left) and Congressman Phil Gingrey, MD (R-GA).

All of these important issues were secondary, of course, to the arrival Thursday of actor Brad Pitt, who was in town to pitch relief for New Orleans. Speaker Nancy Pelosi left the White House health summit to meet with Pitt, while Pitt's wife Angelina Jolie was tying up traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue for a movie shoot. I wonder if Pelosi got stuck in the same traffic jam I did?

On another note I met with House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee member Mike Thompson (D-CA). Thompson is ready for the health reform debate to begin but is just as interested in talking about the health benefits of wine. As a California vineyard owner, he is the Co-Chair of the Congressional Wine Caucus. His biggest concern right now is the health of the wine industry, which is suffering from the economic downturn like many industries. "People are still buying wine but those who used to spend $50 are now spending $25, and people who spend $20 are now spending $10. It is down across the board," said Congressman Thompson, who encouraged several of us in the medical specialty world to try to solve the health care reform puzzle over a fine Cabernet.

Next week, Sen. Baucus is holding a hearing on "Workforce Issues in Health Care Reform." The Academy will be presenting a written statement, which I'll share next week.

Read all of Mike Amery's reports on the Capitol Hill Report page.