New Momentum for Health Care Reform

President Obama’s effort to reform the nation’s health care system, derailed last month by the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, may be back on track.

On Thursday, the White House will host a “bipartisan health reform meeting,” to be attended by key Democrat and Republican lawmakers in Congress and televised live by C-SPAN. The purpose of the conference is essentially to complete the process that began almost one year ago. In advance of the meeting, the White House has released a comprehensive health care reform proposal modeled after the two bills passed by the House of Representatives and Senate late last year. President Obama has urged Republican lawmakers to bring their own specific ideas to the table, in hopes that a final grasp at bipartisanship can produce a comprehensive health reform agreement.

But expectations in Washington are not high that this summit will lead to a new partnership between the two parties. Nonetheless, reform proponents believe meaningful health care reform is the ultimate goal, with or without bipartisan cooperation.

“Over the course of the last year, the nation has watched as this political debate wound its way through a political obstacle course,” said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. ”A year later, far too many children in this country are still without critical medical attention. Now is the time to rectify this wrong. There has been enough talk. There has been enough blame and finger pointing.  Now is the time for action.”

Van Roekel believes President Obama’s proposal and the White House summit has motivated Congress to finish the job.

“The reform effort has obviously suffered some recent setbacks, but that does not make it in any way less critical to our country’s future. We cannot let this opportunity slip away. Congress must pass and President Obama must sign comprehensive health care reform this year.”

The announced rate hikes by insurance companies, including one of as much as 39 percent by Anthem Blue Cross in California, has made the calls for action even louder.

“Enough is enough,” said Richard Kirsch, of Health Care for America Now, the nation’s largest health care reform campaign (NEA is a member). “While Congress has been debating health care reform for more than a year, the American people continue to suffer at the mercy of insurance companies’ soaring premiums and denied claims.”

Reform advocates believe the insurance new rate increases have reenergized support for a comprehensive bill and are encouraged that key lawmakers appear ready to push it over the finish line.

Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada announced that Senate Democrats would likely use the budget reconciliation process, which requires a simple majority vote, to pass a series of fixes to the Senate bill. These adjustments would be necessary to secure votes for passage of that bill in the House.

Indeed, the reconciliation process, according to most supporters, is the only remaining viable path left for health care reform and urge lawmakers to pursue it if necessary.

“No more political games. No more stalling,” says Kirsch. “Congress must get comprehensive reform done now and get it done right.”