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Obama Won't Take No for an Answer

By Dan Froomkin
1:35 PM ET, 03/ 5/2009

When it comes to reforming the health care system, President Obama told a gathering of 150 experts in the field today that he's willing to listen to any idea but one. "The status quo is the one option that is not on the table," he said. "And those who seek to block any reform at any cost will not prevail this time around....

"[T]oday, there are those who say we should defer health care reform once again – that at a time of economic crisis, we simply cannot afford to fix our health care system as well.

"Well, let's be clear: the same soaring costs that are straining our families' budgets are sinking our businesses and eating up our government's budget too. Too many small businesses can't insure their employees. Major American corporations are struggling to compete with their foreign counterparts. And companies of all sizes are shipping their jobs overseas or shutting their doors for good....

"[H]ealth care reform is no longer just a moral imperative, it is a fiscal imperative. If we want to create jobs and rebuild our economy, then we must address the crushing cost of health care this year, in this Administration. Making investments in reform now, investments that will dramatically lower costs, won't add to our budget deficits in the long-term – rather, it is one of the best ways to reduce them."

As for all the obstacles that have blocked reform in the past, Obama said: "I believe that this time is different. This time, the call for reform is coming from the bottom up, from all across the spectrum – from doctors, nurses and patients; unions and businesses; hospitals, health care providers and community groups. It's coming from mayors, governors and legislatures – Democrats and Republicans – who are racing ahead of Washington to pass bold health care initiatives on their own. This time, there is no debate about whether all Americans should have quality, affordable health care – the only question is, how?"

Obama spoke before participants in the summit broke out into several discussion groups -- much like at the fiscal responsibility summit Obama held last week.

Johanna Neuman blogs for the Los Angeles Times: "President Obama hosts a forum on healthcare reform today that is intended to open the door to all the groups -- like insurers -- who say they were left out in the cold 15 years ago when then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton met in private with a few wonks to craft a bill she then tried to sell as a fait accompli to Congress....

"[U]nlike the mind-numbing details in what was dubbed the Hillarycare proposal, Obama plans to articulate broad principles and leave the details to Congress...

"Today's White House summit will include 150 people -- far more than the small circle convened in private by President Clinton 15 years ago. Even Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, a key Senate voice on healthcare issues for decades who is now battling brain cancer, plans to attend."

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes for the Associated Press: "Among the invitees are some who helped kill the Clinton administration's health care overhaul in the 1990s. Everyone is supposed to be on his best behavior, but will that last?"

Dan Eggen and Ceci Connolly write in The Washington Post that Obama's plan "to dramatically expand the health-care system has attracted surprising notes of support from insurers, hospitals and other players in the powerful medical lobby who are set to participate in an unusual White House summit on the issue this afternoon. The lure for the industry is the prospect of tens of millions of new customers: If Obama succeeds in fulfilling his pledge to cover many more Americans, those newly insured people will get checkups, purchase medicine, undergo physical therapy and get surgeries they cannot afford today....

"The unstated intention of Obama's approach is to dole out the pain in small, easier-to-swallow bites to minimize opposition, White House aides say. Under the president's plan, hospitals, doctors, drugmakers, insurance companies and wealthy seniors -- all of whom will be represented at today's summit -- would sacrifice. But if the system was calibrated properly, no one would lose too much.

"Not everyone is happy, of course, and lobbyists and health-care experts warn that major obstacles lie ahead. The seniors lobby AARP, for example, opposes Obama's recommendation to raise Medicare prescription premiums on wealthy retirees. Major insurers also dislike his proposed overhaul of the Medicare Advantage program, which markets managed-care plans to seniors, while home-care providers object to cuts to their Medicare reimbursements....

"Drew Altman, head of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the debate 'will get a lot tougher' in the months ahead. 'We're still more in the happy-talk stage of health reform,' he said, adding: 'In Washington, there is a machine set up to fight every fight. No battle goes unfought.'"

David Alexander writes for Reuters: "Battle lines already are being drawn, with some Republicans opposing any move to let the government act as an insurer of last resort in competition with private insurers.

"'If the government is one of the competitors, eventually there are no competitors left,' Representative Roy Blunt, who is leading Republican healthcare efforts, said this week."

As with his stimulus package, Obama is planning to set broad goals, but leave the details to Congress. Is that wise? Or should he tell Congress exactly what to do? Discuss that in my White House Watchers group.

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