U.S. lawmakers eye Medicare in health reform drive

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Source: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090421/hl_nm/us_usa_healthcare_congress;_ylt=AoHoHjr7ISNQk50lORRnc.E_cbYF

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Medicare program for the elderly may offer ways to encourage better care at a lower cost as a big part of reforming the U.S. healthcare system, a leading Senate Democrat said on Tuesday.

"Medicare is the big driver here," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus told reporters following a committee discussion with industry groups on ways to change the payment system.

Politicians and experts agree it is important to reward doctors and hospitals for better quality of care and move away from a system that pays them based on the number of procedures and treatments.

Medicare accounts for about one-fifth of U.S. healthcare and private insurers tend to follow the government program’s payment structure.

Baucus, who is taking a lead on writing healthcare reform legislation in the Senate, said he was optimistic Congress would enact a healthcare overhaul. Revamping the $2.5 trillion healthcare system is a top priority for President Barack Obama, who argues it is crucial to long-term U.S. economic recovery.

"Everybody here wants to address quality and reimbursements based on quality," Baucus said.

It was the first of three meetings on reform, which Democrats who control Congress hope to deliver to Obama by the end of the year. The next session will focus on covering the uninsured, Baucus said.

"More is spent per person on health care in the United States than in any other nation in the world, and yet America has some of the worst health outcomes," committee member Senator Jay Rockefeller said in a statement.

Glenn Steele, president of the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania, told the committee Medicare could help lead changes.

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