By Tim Walker
President Obama hosted a bipartisan health care summit today to loosen the logjam in Congress that has held up passage of comprehensive health care reform. For more than seven hours, the president, members of his cabinet, and about 40 members of the House and Senate sparred over costs containment, insurance reforms, deficit reduction, and health care coverage.
But after the marathon session ended, it was clear that any version of the comprehensive health reform bill favored by the administration was not going to win over Republicans in attendance. Reform proponents are urging the president and Congress to move forward and complete the process.
“After more than 50 years and seven presidents,” said National Association President Dennis Van Roekel “we’re closer than we’ve ever been to making the dream of health insurance reform a reality and this is not an opportunity we can afford to squander.”
Richard Kirsch of the Health Care for America Now coalition (NEA is a member) agreed.
“It’s now time for the President and Democrats to finalize a bill with or without their Republican colleagues,” said Kirsch after the summit, “and pass legislation that works for us – not the insurance companies – and gives us all good health care we can afford.”
At the summit, Democrats repeatedly pushed back against three key Republicans demands: scrap the bills already passed by the House and Senate, start over, and pass more incrementalist measures. President Obama made it clear that starting from scratch, after spending almost one year on this effort, made no sense and that a comprehensive bill would be more effective in tackling the problems that ail the system.
Despite finding areas of general agreement, the two parties clashed over most issues. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) argued that the Democrat’s reform plan would raise insurance costs for consumers – a longstanding GOP talking point that has been widely discredited.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi defended regulations on the insurance industry, saying the American people support an end to discrimination on the basis of preexisting conditions.
“The insurance industry, left to its own devices, has behaved shamefully.”
President Obama conceded that the two political parties’ philosophical differences might be insurmountable.
“I don’t know that these gaps can be bridged,” he said.
At the close of the marathon session, however, the president agreed to consider some of the Republican proposals, but he said if the GOP still refused to support the Democratic approach, he and party leaders in Congress will push ahead without them.
The American people just want Congress finish the job, said Van Roekel.
“It’s difficult to imagine that a country as great as ours cannot find a way to provide quality, affordable health care to everyone; but politics has a way of thwarting progress.”
“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.”