Obama hosts health care summit at White House

A White House health care summit hosted on Thursday by President Obama will enable attendees to discuss reform proposals for the U.S. health care system, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/5).

Consumers and providers, representatives from business and labor, insurers and drugmakers will be at the summit, according to USA Today (Wolf, USA Today, 3/4). However, the White House has not released a list of individuals invited to attend (Murray/McSherry, Roll Call, 3/5).

According to USA Today, the summit, scheduled to last half of the day, will include presentations by patients "caught in the health care maelstrom" (Wolf, USA Today, 3/4). The summit also will include discussions among small groups, according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs (Wangsness, Boston Globe, 3/5). He said, "The president will open the forum, and participants will break out into several groups to discuss ideas on ways to reform the system, bring down costs and expand coverage," adding, "The president will then reassemble participants in a closing session" (Murray/McSherry, Roll Call, 3/5).

Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said, "They are coming to the White House and coming to the table because they want to get this done" (USA Today, 3/4). A White House spokesperson said, "On health care reform, the American people are too often offered two extremes -- government-run health care with higher taxes or letting the insurance companies operate without rules," adding, "To that end, the forum will be a critical first step toward finding a middle ground" (Ackerman, Houston Chronicle, 3/4).

Participants

The summit is "a largely symbolic move, to be followed in the months ahead by tough negotiations over health care costs, access and quality," USA Today reports (USA Today, 3/4). According to Roll Call, the "program's secretive guest list has some health care executives nervous that their voices will not be heard when policymakers attempt" to pass health care reform legislation (Murray/McSherry, Roll Call, 3/5).

Meanwhile, groups that "support government-run, single-payer health care" have "mounted a successful last-minute lobbying campaign to score invitations" to the summit, according to CQ Today. The White House initially rejected requests for invitations from at least two such groups and House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-Mich.), who supports a single-payer health care system, but a "behind-the-scenes lobbying effort by the groups began to pay off when the White House reversed itself and extended Conyers an invitation" and later invited a representative from Physicians for a National Health Program, CQ Today reports (Wayne, CQ Today, 3/4).

Comments

Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said of the summit, "It would be a mistake to dismiss this as a gabfest," adding, "It's an effort to keep the momentum going. The details are not going to be worked out in two or three hours at a White House summit."

Federation of American Hospitals President Chip Kahn said that "everyone wants to see this work." He added, "There is a tremendous feeling that it's time" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/5).

Maria Ghazel, director of public policy for the Business Roundtable, said, "Everyone now knows ... if the alternative is to do nothing, that is not an alternative," adding, "No one is going to gain from that. We know the number of uninsured will not go down" (Budoff Brown [1], The Politico, 3/4).

America's Health Insurance Plans President Karen Ignagni said, "The stakeholder community is no longer organizing to say 'no.'"

John Rother, director of public policy for the AARP, said, "There's a surprising level of agreement on the goals."

Dan Danner, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, said, "We're not Pollyanna-ish," adding, "There's no question that finding a solution is not going to be easy."

American Medical Association President Nancy Nielsen said, "The administration is seizing this historic opportunity to improve the system" (USA Today, 3/4).

Baucus Opposes Limit on Itemized Tax Deductions

In related news, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has indicated that he would prefer to cap tax deductions for employer-sponsored health insurance, rather than limit itemized tax deductions for higher-income U.S. residents as Obama has proposed, to finance health care reform, the Boston Globe reports (Wangsness, Boston Globe, 3/5). During a committee hearing on Wednesday, Baucus "pressed" Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on the "administration's political strategy on health care, saying the White House should do more to find savings within current health care programs to fund an overhaul instead of resorting to a tax hike for that purpose," and proposed "capping the dollar amount of employer-provided health care benefits that can be excluded from an employee's income for tax purposes," CQ Today reports (Schatz, CQ Today, 3/4).

Baucus this week plans to have lunch with Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to discuss plans for health care reform. According to the Globe, the "appointment is significant because Kennedy, who is suffering from brain cancer, has mostly been in Florida since Inauguration Day, when he experienced a seizure during a luncheon" (Boston Globe, 3/4).

McConnell Letter

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a letter recently sent to Obama wrote that Republicans will work with the administration on health care reform, provided that the effort does not lead to a system administered by the federal government and balances proposals to expand health insurance with plans to reduce costs (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/5). According to the letter, "Washington-run programs undermine market-based competition through their ability to impose price controls and shift costs to other purchasers" (USA Today, 3/4).

McConnell wrote, "It is essential that we work together across party lines and we would like to express our strong desire to reject partisan tactics and move forward on this important challenge in a comprehensive, inclusive and bipartisan manner." In addition, he wrote, "Forcing free market plans to compete with these government-run programs would create an unlevel playing field and inevitably doom true competition."

Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) also signed the letter (Budoff Brown [2], The Politico, 3/4).

Other Issues

  • Clinton: The New York Times on Thursday examined how Obama is "drawing on the experiences" of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in his efforts on health care reform but "is not relying on Mrs. Clinton herself." According to the Times, Clinton has not "participated in any of the White House's planning sessions on health care" and has not "discussed it in any detail" with Obama, as he "is at once trying to distance himself from the baggage Mrs. Clinton carries" on the issue, "while demonstrating that he has learned from it" (Stolberg, New York Times, 3/5).
  • Pharmaceutical industry: The Washington Post on Wednesday examined how, although pharmaceutical companies had "feared that Barack Obama would press for price controls on prescription drugs and readied plans for a multimillion-dollar ad campaign against the idea," they have found that he has taken a "more modest approach after becoming president." According to the Post, Obama has proposed to "extract bigger discounts on medications bought through Medicaid," a move that "could save the drug companies billions a year compared with price controls" (Eggen/Connolly, Washington Post, 3/5).
  • Senate Republicans: Roll Call on Thursday examined how, despite "optimism that consensus on a major health care overhaul can be achieved this year, a fierce political battle over the perennially partisan issue looms -- with Senate Republicans in particular telegraphing their intent to roundly reject anything that smacks of a government-run, single-payer system." According to Roll Call, the "high spirits among Democrats and Republicans intimately involved in the early stages of drafting legislation are notable," but "with President Barack Obama's proposal to pay for health care reform partly by raising taxes -- and because Democrats generally favor increasing the federal government's authority over the health care industry -- the current optimism could be short-lived" (Drucker, Roll Call, 3/5).

Broadcast Coverage

  • NBC's "Nightly News" on Wednesday reported on how the Kaiser Permanente system could serve as a model for health care reform (Bazell, "Nightly News," NBC, 3/4).
  • Fox News' "Special Report with Bret Baier" on Tuesday reported on opposition to the Obama health care proposal (Baier, "Special Report with Bret Baier," Fox News, 3/3).
  • NPR's "All Things Considered" on Wednesday reported on a proposal by Obama to reduce Medicare spending to help finance health care reform (Silberner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/4). In addition, NPR's "All Things Considered" on Wednesday reported on the health care summit (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/4).
  • NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on the health care summit (Liasson, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/5). In addition, NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on proposals to reduce health care costs (Horsley, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/5). NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday also reported on whether Obama should address health care reform at the same time as he faces a number of other important concerns (Williams/Wertheimer, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/5).
  • NPR's "Tell Me More" on Wednesday included a discussion with former Surgeon General David Satcher about health care reform ("Tell Me More," NPR, 3/4).

Kaisernetwork.orgThis article is republished with kind permission from our friends at The Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery of in-depth coverage of health policy developments, debates and discussions. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for Kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Copyright 2009 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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