Groups find a common ground on health care overhaul

by Lesley Politi on April 9, 2009

Groups find common ground on health care overhaul

WASHINGTON (AP) — Groups representing consumers, businesses, insurers, doctors, nurses and hospitals said Friday they have reached agreement on how they would like to see the nation’s health care system overhauled.

Calling themselves the Health Reform Dialogue, the 18 groups have been meeting for six months. Although their long-awaited report avoided most of the contentious issues, it could serve as a starting point for lawmakers trying to craft a plan that will win broad support this year.

The groups said the uninsured should be covered through a combination of expanded government programs and subsidies to purchase private health coverage. They called for savings from making the health care system less wasteful and urged that prevention become the foundation for medical care.

But they failed to resolve several major points of disagreement and their five-page proposal was thin on details, starting with how to pay for the plan.

“Some issues currently elude consensus,” the group said in its report. “Nevertheless, the participating organizations are committed to resolving them through the political process; each agrees that failing on health reform in this Congress is unacceptable and is committed to working cooperatively.”

The participants in the dialogue include the National Federation of Independent Business and the health insurance industry, two players that were instrumental in sinking the last attempt at health care overhaul in the 1990s. Also participating are staunch supporters of guaranteed coverage for all, such as AARP and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

However, the Service Employees International Union, which participated in the discussions, did not sign on to the agreement.

The groups all but endorsed a requirement that every American obtain health insurance. While their agreement avoided the politically loaded term “individual mandate,” it said Congress should “enact reforms necessary so that all individuals will purchase or obtain quality, affordable health insurance.”

The agreement called for a two-prong strategy to cover the estimated 48 million uninsured. First, the Medicaid program should be expanded to cover all adults earning up to the federal poverty level. Then, subsidies or tax credits should be offered to help the middle class.

The participants avoided the issue of whether to create a government insurance plan to compete with private companies. President Barack Obama has called for such an approach, and many Democrats, union members and liberals see it as an essential element of any final compromise. The insurance industry considers that a deal breaker.

The agreement also failed to tackle the thorny issue of how to pay for expanded coverage in what is already the world’s costliest health care system. The options under consideration include taxing some health insurance benefits as if they were income and limiting tax deductions for high earners, both seen as highly controversial. Independent estimates of the costs range as high as $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

“To jump-start health reform, additional investments in U.S. health care will be needed,” the groups said. “Additional sources of funding will be required, at least in the short term and … costs must be spread equitably across stakeholders.”


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