WASHINGTON – With President Obama and congressional Republicans turning to address the looming budget crisis, a coalition of consumer groups, labor unions and major employers is pushing new approaches to control federal health spending without cutting benefits for seniors and others who rely on Medicare and Medicaid.
The plan, released Thursday by the National Coalition on Health Care, includes several potentially controversial proposals such as a new penny-per-ounce federal tax on sweetened beverages and tougher penalties on under-performing hospitals.
But coalition President John Rother said policies that make healthcare more efficient and change Americans’ unhealthy behavior will be critical if policymakers want to avoid simply shifting more costs on seniors and other vulnerable Americans who rely on government health programs.
“Unless we do the kinds of things that we are talking about, I’m afraid we are going to see some meat-ax kind of cuts,” said Rother, a veteran Washington health policy expert and former AARP senior executive. “This is an effort to avoid some of the more heavy-handed strategies.”
The 50-page plan outlines more than $220 billion in specific savings over the next decade, as identified by budget experts at independent organizations such as the Congressional Budget Office and the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.
And the plan includes $220 billion in new taxes, including the $130-billion sweetened beverage tax, as well as higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol.
Rother said he hopes these ideas will get a new look on Capitol Hill because they are backed by such a diverse coalition.
Coalition members include the AARP, the American Heart Assn., the Blue Cross Blue Shield Assn., the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, CVS Caremark, Duke Energy, Giant Food, the Motion Picture Assn. of America and Verizon.