The Obama administration vowed to release its own health reform proposal ahead of a highly publicized, bipartisan summit this week and despite a scarcity of details—and optimism—in Washington.
The devil is in the details
The White House gears up for health summit
In one scenario, the White House could attach its legislative proposal to another bill pending on Capitol Hill and benefit from a procedural move that would allow it to pass on a simple majority vote in the Senate.
But it’s the lack of clarity on what the White House wants, coupled with the fact that many lawmakers have been away from Washington for more than a week and have had little contact with the key framers of such a proposal that has healthcare lobbyists puzzled over what to expect.
The White House said that during the health reform summit, slated for Feb. 25, it wants to hear from a wide swath of congressional members, policy experts and federal number-crunchers to find common ground on a bill. Many in Washington and beyond are eyeing the meeting as a potential make-it or break-it conference in the year-long effort to reshape the U.S. healthcare system.
“The president intends to have a proposal that will be put on a Web site and made available before the summit,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during a conference call with reporters.
Sebelius said that the proposal would draw from both the House- and Senate-approved bills. It will “take some of the best ideas and put it into a framework for moving forward,” she said, adding, “The president wants to hear some solutions from the Republicans.”
In the meantime, providers weighed in with what they want to see addressed during the confab.
Joseph Stubbs, president of the American College of Physicians, said that he hopes that the president will consider “common-ground, common-sense reforms.” Among the initiatives Stubbs wants to see pressed are measures to bolster the ranks of primary-care doctors, accelerate pilot programs on medical homes and the adoption of health IT, and reduce administrative costs associated with interactions with health plans.
Republicans and Democrats alike have been invited to negotiate in front of the cameras even though few in Washington see much room for compromise. Republicans, who have been branded by Democrats as “the party of no,” have an interest in demonstrating that they have ideas and alternatives. Likewise, Democrats want to show that their reform ideas would lower the out-of-pocket costs, as well as the overall price tag, for care.
Complicating matters is that the White House has said it wants the members to have workable legislation in hand—something that has proven elusive so far as partisan politics have dominated and resulted in gridlock.
In December and into January, leaders from both the House and Senate had been working on a compromise package, making inroads on complicated matters such as ways to pay for the bills while increasing coverage to everyday Americans.
Much of that work stalled after Democrats lost the Massachusetts’ Senate seat long held by Democrat Edward Kennedy, one that dropped them below the 60-vote threshold that is needed to break a filibuster.
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