Whitehouse pushes Obama to set health-care savings target

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse thinks he knows how President Obama can reach a budget deal without reducing Medicare benefits outright: declare exactly how much money the federal government will save by changing how health care is delivered, and then make it happen.

“A clear and specific presidential target will focus federal efforts in an accountable manner, that calls to ‘bend the health care cost curve’ will not,” the senator said in a statement. Whitehouse is a leading congressional champion of what’s known as health care delivery system reform.

The problem, as Whitehouse sees it, is that the Congressional Budget Office won’t “score” savings from changing how health care is delivered because the CBO sees them as uncertain. But if the president puts a dollar amount on the savings, a budget deal can bank the amount.

Whitehouse put forward his idea in a letter to Obama and a Politico op-ed on Wednesday. “Let’s put the full force of American innovation and ingenuity into achieving a serious cost-savings goal for our nation’s health care finances,” the senator wrote in the op-ed. “And in the meantime, let’s resist the urge to cut Medicare benefits and put additional strain on middle-class Americans.”

Meanwhile, Whitehouse is also trying to refocus Washington on climate change as international talks take place in Qatar. “It’s impossible to deny that it really hasn’t been a priority, and now with the fiscal issues all pending and a fairly immediate horizon for solving that, either now or in the first quarter of the year, I think that displaces these other issues,” he told Politico.

• Related: Whitehouse optimistic on filibuster, wary about ‘fiscal cliff’ deal (Nov. 14)

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