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GOP Bashes Health Reform Summit

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, February 15, 2010

The White House has invited more than three dozen top lawmakers in the healthcare reform debate—20 Democrats and 17 Republicans from the House and Senate—to meet and discuss healthcare reform in a televised conference on Feb. 25. Some GOP members, though, are questioning the motives of the President.

In a Feb. 12 letter, signed by the President's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, they note that "when it comes to healthcare, the status quo is unsustainable and unacceptable." In particular, they cite the case of Anthem Blue Cross in which they said premiums would increase for many of its policyholders in California by as much as 39%.

If a comprehensive health insurance reform is not completed, this "enormous rate hike will be just a preview of coming attractions," they wrote. "Premiums will continue to rise" and "millions more will lose their coverage altogether or millions of our deficits will continue to grow large," they added.

"This is the closest our nation has been to resolving this issue in the nearly 100 years that it has been debated," they said. The President is expected to focus on four topics:

  • Insurance reforms
  • Cost containment
  • Expanding coverage
  • The impact that health reform legislation will have on deficit reduction

Several Republicans, though, have questioned the usefulness of having the summit, which is scheduled at Blair House, a block away from the White House.

Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ), the Senate minority whip, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," he was "near certain" that congressional Democrats would try to use the budget reconciliation process—in which only a simple majority of 51 votes would be needed in the Senate—to move healthcare reform proposals through Congress.

"They have devised a process by which they can jam the bill through that the president has supported in the past without the Republican ideas in it," Kyl said. "Reconciliation is not the process for comprehensive bills like this. It's to balance the budget . . . I don't know why we would be having a bipartisan summit down at the White House if they've already decided on this other process."

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R OH) on Saturday said in a statement that "a productive bipartisan discussion" should begin with "a clean sheet of paper."

However, he challenged the impartiality of the summit, saying that "the president and his party intend to arrive with a new bill written behind closed doors exclusively by Democrats."

He added that the Democratic participants—which include chairmen of the five House and Senate committees that oversaw healthcare reform legislation last year—will engage in a "televised 'dialogue' according to a script they have largely pre determined," he said. "It doesn't sound much like bipartisanship to me."

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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