Feder is a veteran of President Bill Clinton's efforts to change the system 16 years ago as principal deputy assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at HHS. She emphasized that in spite of the conflict over differences in the bills, there is “enormous agreement” among them: They would build upon the country's legacy of employer-based health insurance and erect a new market where people can get affordable and dependable coverage if they can't get it at work.
CNN commentator Paul Begala delivered a lunch address in which he praised Obama for the things that are confounding many of his supporters. The president's deals with major sectors of the healthcare industry, including hospitals and drugmakers, have succeeded in appeasing and splintering potential opponents, and his refusal to draw lines in the sand, on the public option for example, have preserved room to maneuver as the process drags on.
Begala, an adviser to President Clinton in the early days of that administration, said he wished his team could have taken a mulligan on the moment Clinton vowed to veto any bill that failed to cover 100% of Americans.
Regardless of Obama's skill in moving his effort farther than Clinton's ever reached, Begala predicted the final bill won't be passed before Christmas and that his CNN colleague Anderson Cooper is likely to be multi-tasking coverage of the healthcare legislation as he anchors the network's New Year's broadcast from Times Square.
The ABA summit featured discussions included government officials, such as Barry Straube, director and chief clinical officer of CMS' Office of Clinical Standards and Quality, David Blumenthal, who heads the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS, and Richard Feinstein, director the Bureau of Competition at the Federal Trade Commission. Attendees also heard from well-placed industry representatives, such as American Hospital Association President and CEO Richard Umbdenstock, American Medical Association President James Rohack, and Gary Bacher, a senior vice president for America's Health Insurance Plans.
They all did their best to explain what's in the healthcare bills and how certain provisions might play out. The advocates and industry reps also cast those things as historic achievements, marginal improvements or annoyances, or calamities.
Midway through the second day, a man stood up to tell everyone they'd been wasting their time. That was Steve Seale, a shareholder in Wise Carter Child & Caraway in Mississippi, who previously was former chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Whatever bill reaches Obama's desk, if one does, will bear little resemblance to the legislation coming out of the various House and Senate committees, Seale said.
A fellow conservative (they were somewhat outnumbered at the event—but, hey, they're outnumbered in government right now) earlier suggested the Democrats' healthcare train will sputter to halt before it reaches the station, even if it seems to have some momentum. “I think in the long run the American public is going to be frightened by what they don't understand,” said Thomas Miller, a resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, showing himself to be every bit the mean-spirited optimist as Feder.
Gregg Blesch covers legal affairs and regional healthcare business news in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
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