A health care summit between President Obama, Republicans and Democrats ended with the president laying out some areas of consensus between the two parties but many disagreements remain. Throughout the more than six hour session, lawmakers laid out their competing priorities for the measure. While Republicans said the Democrats' proposal was too broad in its scope and the American public had rejected it, Democrats said the public wanted action now on a comprehensive health insurance proposal and they intended to pass their bill.
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JACKIE JUDD: Good evening I'm Jackie Judd with a special edition of Health on the Hill. The much-anticipated health care summit organized by the White House and attended by Democratic and Republican lawmakers ended a short while ago. President Obama opened this unique gathering with a statement of his expectations. Take a listen.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope that this isn't political theater, where we're just playing to the cameras and criticizing each other, but instead are actually trying to solve the problem. That's what the American people are looking for.
As controversial as the efforts to reform healthcare have been, thus far, when you ask people should we move forward and try to reform the system, people still say yes. They still want to see change. And it strikes me that if we've got an open mind, if we're listening to each other, if we're not engaging in sort of the tit-for-tat and trying to score political points, during the next several hours, that we might be able to make some progress.
JACKIE JUDD: So after 6 hours and 22 minutes, was progress made? Here to help us answer that, as always, is Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News. Welcome Mary Agnes.
MARY AGNES CAREY: Thank you.
JACKIE JUDD: The President and the administration said that today was supposed to a search for common ground. Was there any found?
MARY AGNES CAREY: The President tried at the end of the summit to talk about the areas he thought where Democrats and Republicans had some common ground. For example, both sides don't like the idea that the an insurance company could not cover you based on a pre-existing medical condition, or cancel your coverage once you get sick, but Democrats want far more regulation of the health insurance industry than Republicans do.
The President talked about the idea that maybe there's some common ground on what the health insurance exchange is, offering people choices of health coverage, but Democrats want some minimum standards for that coverage, Republicans don't.
Selling insurance across state lines, again both sides generally agree to that, but Democrats would want more state and federal control over those insurance companies, where Republicans would simply want any insurer in any state to sell into another.
They also talked a little bit about medical malpractice. Democrats have no interest in capping judgement awards, but the President said perhaps we could work on some state-based approaches.
JACKIE JUDD: At the end, when the President made his closing statement, it seemed to me that to find something positive in this day, he did say that there was some common ground but he was really talking at the 10,000 foot level and again, as you point out, it's in the details where the disagreements they began with, they really ended with.
MARY AGNES CAREY: Right, both Republicans and Democrats talked about the strong philosophical divide that they have over this Bill. Democrats want a different role for government within the health care system. Republicans want none of it. They said several times, scrap this bill and start over. Democrats in return said there's no way we can do that, people have waited far too long and we need to move ahead to help people.
JACKIE JUDD: There was that constant refrain from one Republican after another to start over and finally in the closing minutes the President said, after a year and a half starting over means not doing much or, he said, enacting a proposal that would be entirely authored by the Republicans. He said we cannot have another year long debate on this. So what was he really saying, that reconciliation is the next step or is that going too far?
MARY AGNES CAREY: I think he said to the Republicans, I've tried. I've brought you together, I've listened to you, he wanted Republicans to think about other areas where they could get consensus.
So, he left the door open, but it was very clear in remarks afterwards that Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, Harry Reid, Majority Leader in the Senate, have full intention to go ahead with this Bill. If you don't get Republican support, they'll have to use the reconciliation process.
JACKIE JUDD: The bill you're talking about, of course, is the bill that the Senate passed late last year.
MARY AGNES CAREY: Right, the House has a version, the Senate has a version and so the House would have to pass the Senate version of the bill but they would make changes in a reconciliation package. These were some of the changes that President Obama advanced earlier in the week.
JACKIE JUDD: If that doesn't play out, for any reason, there has been a lot of discussion today outside of the summit about "Plan B." What's Plan B? There's talk about a skinny bill. There's talk about another scaled back bill. What could the next step possibly be from here?
MARY AGNES CAREY: I think the push would be, the Democrats seem very committed to passing that larger bill, but if that doesn't happen they might look at specific provisions of the bill and try to put it into a smaller package, perhaps keeping the Medicaid expansion, perhaps providing subsidies to some of the lowest income individuals to help them buy coverage.
Some attempt at setting up a health insurance exchange to help people buy coverage, but it's very clear that the hope is that the bigger bill can pass, and I think that's where the real effort is now.
JACKIE JUDD: I'll end with a question that I have asked you so many times over the past year, timetable. What is the timetable that the majority party, the Democrats, have in mind for what's next?
MARY AGNES CAREY: I think that many Democrats would like to move this bill before the Easter/Passover recess, which will start at the end of March, but many times Democrats in both Houses of have said we'll go when we're ready and you can't pass a bill till you have the votes. So that will guide the process probably more than anything else.
JACKIE JUDD: Okay, another interesting day. Thank you so much. Thank you for joining us. I'm Jackie Judd and this has been Health on the Hill.