A crucial House committee vote on the Carter administion's attempt to control rising hospital costs was delayed for the second time yesterday for lack of enough members to act on it.
President Carter Wednesday wrote every House Commerce committee member to call the hospital cost control plan "the most important immediate step" the nation can take to hold down "intolerable" health costs, and a "top priority" to fight inflation the country's "most pressing problem."
First Wednesday, then yesterday, Commerce Committee Chairman Harley Staggers (D. W. Va.) put off a vote on a bill to hold annual hospital revenue increases to around 9 percent rather than the 15 percent a year of the three years.
The Commerce Committee has 43 members. Hills observers agreed that the count as of yesterday was probably 17 committee votes for anything like the administration's proposal and 20 against, with six undecided.
Rep. Pual Rogers (D. Fla), chairman of the committee's health subcommittee, which has passed a hosptial cost bill, developed the fact that few groups have supported it while hospital and medical organizations have boughtt up their biggest guns to oppose it.
"I don't think the public realizes that its representatives are trying to get a beginning here on reducing the costs that make them live in fear of any prolonged illness," Rogers said.
Michael Brombery, executive director of the Federation of American Hospitals and one of the foes of the administration plan and those approching it, said, "We haven't won yet by any means. Bob Strauss (the president's chief inflation fighter) has called every committee member, and I expect the president will be calling too."
A vote has been rescheduled for next Thursday, one day after Congress returns from its Memorial Day holiday. At the least, it promises to be a cliffhanger, with 40 amendments ready, by one estimate, as members try to strengthen or weaken the administration approach.
Rogers has said he will accept a compromise drafted by Rep. Dan Rostenlowski (D. III.) and passed 7 to 6 by Rostenkowski's Ways and Means health subcommittee. It would give hospitals a chance to curb their costs voluntarily, but automatically trigger the administration plan if voluntary efforts failed to cut hospital revenues by 2 percent this year and again next year.
The decision to postpone yesterdays scheduled vote was taken as a sign that there is not enough committee support to pass even this voluntary control bill.
The administration earlier had given up hope of its original proposal.
The three main health groupsp fighting any such bill-the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals (the investorowned hospitals) and the American Medical Association-seek a totally voluntary approach.
They also supporot the naming of a president commission to make permanent recommendations, as well as emergency ones if the voluntary controls fail.
Also, Brombery said, "we wood support passage" of bill proposed by Sen. Herman Talmadge (D. Ga) and passed by his Finance Committee health subcommittee. It would set annual target rates for hospital costs, then (by allowing of disallowing future increases) reward of penalize hospitals depending on how close they came to the targets.
AFL-CIO lobbyists also have been opposing the administration plan for failing to remove all possible barries to hospital workers' wage increases. The unions want mandatory federal cost controls, but controls that would make sure hospitals wouldn't increase other spending while holding down pay.
A new labor-backea compromise plan for national health insurance-one also endorsed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D. Mass)-passed a hurdle yesterday.
The executive committee of the Committee for National Health insurance unanimously agreed to continue negotiations on it with the administration. The plan would rely largely on private health insurers. Rep. James Corman (D. Calif.) had urged the group to reject it in favour or the previous Kennedy-Corman plan to create a federal agency to insure all Americans.
One high health official said yesterday that plans for national health insurance are premature if the administration cannot win support for a hospital cost control bill. "We have to control health costs before we can even consider national health insurance," he said.