Health Reform Week Ahead: Insurance Antitrust Exemption, COBRA, Obama's Bipartisan Ideas

A Washingtonpost.com reader-submitted photo after a major snowstorm hit the nation's capital this weekend. ("Your Snow and Ice Photos"/Washingtonpost.com)

News outlets report President Obama is trying another strategy to move a health overhaul forward. Meanwhile, when the Senate reconvenes (after Washington digs out from the snowstorm), the talk will largely be about a jobs bill with some health provisions. The House is expected to take up another health reform concern.

The Associated Press: "In the first major step to revive his health care agenda after his party's loss of a filibuster-proof Senate majority, President Barack Obama on Sunday invited Republican and Democratic leaders to discuss possible compromises in a televised gathering later this month. ...
The Feb. 25 meeting's prospects for success are far from clear. GOP leaders demanded Sunday that Democrats start from scratch, and White House aides said Obama had no plans to do so."

"Obama told CBS's Katie Couric that he and the leaders of both parties will 'go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward'" (Babington, 2/7).

CBS News has a webcast of the interview, which was conducted live Sunday afternoon.

Politico, before the President's interview: "In another sign that President Obama is still working for a big, comprehensive health care bill, senior White House adviser David Axelrod said Sunday that Obama is not looking for a 'symbolic' win. ... Asked why Obama won't weigh in on a legislative strategy to move the stalled effort, Axelrod said, 'I think people would like the president to be able to say, just snap his fingers and finish this out. The fact is it’s more complex than that'" Axelrod was on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" (Frates, 2/7).

Reuters, in an analysis also written before the interview: "Obama is basically angling to call the bluff of Republicans who he believes have done nothing but stand in opposition to his proposals on revamping the U.S. healthcare system and stimulating the economy. ... 'I told my Republican friends I want to work together with them where I can -- and I meant it,' Obama said at a Democratic event on Thursday. .... Obama's pledge to seek unity will be put to the test as early as this week. On Tuesday he hosts Democratic and Republican leaders from the House and Senate at the White House for talks on jobs and the economy. (Holland, 2/7).

CongressDaily: "The jobs bill is expected to renew unemployment benefits, [COBRA] health insurance subsidies for laid-off workers and surface transportation funding expiring Feb. 28. It also might stave off Medicare physician payment cuts that would otherwise take effect."

"Meanwhile, the House will take up legislation as early as Wednesday to strip health and medical malpractice insurers of their antitrust exemption, which allows them to collude to set prices. The vote will be a test for whether House Democrats will hold future votes on smaller pieces of health legislation ... Republican leaders have been unclear as to whether they will support the measure, and Democrats hope they will be forced to make a stand. Taking away the antitrust exemption is seen as a popular move, but the GOP has blazed a trail of consistent opposition" (Cohn and Goode, 2/8).

Related KHN story: The Antitrust Exemption: Meaningful Or Not? (Gold, 2/7)

CQ: "Democrats are adjusting their messaging by arguing that their health care overhaul would itself be a jobs bill. ... At a Feb. 3 hearing on [President} Obama’s budget, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee sparred over whether the health care bill would create or destroy jobs. ... [HHS Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius said that with expanded health insurance coverage, workers would take fewer sick days. 'You’d not only have more productive companies, but we’d be more globally competitive,' she said.  But Finance member Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., said that by reducing the growth of Medicare spending over the next 10 years, the overhaul would hurt health providers. 'How many jobs will be lost if one in five health care providers go out of business?' he asked" (Wayne, 2/5).

Meanwhile, CNN reports that in an interview Sunday on CNN’s "State of the Union," former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked by Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley: "Are you getting a little déjà vu watching this?" Clinton replied: "Well it's really hard. It is a complex issue that touches everybody about which both people and interests have really strong feelings. But I haven't given up yet, and I know the White House hasn't given up. And I - I don't think a lot of the members of Congress have given up. So I'm not sure that this last chapter has been written" (Stewart, 2/7).





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