KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Bipartisanship Unlikely After Health Summit; Party Unity Obama’s Next Best Bet

Democratic and Republican lawmakers each have an opportunity to make bipartisan concessions during Thursday's summit – like warming to malpractice reform or publicly conceding Democratic plans would ultimately lower the deficit, respectively - but political pressure will likely push both sides towards their partisan ranks, Politico reports. "The parties have become so entrenched in their positions that Republicans say they will never accept the Democratic comprehensive reform bill, and Democrats say they will never start over and adopt the GOP's scaled-back, market-driven approach" (Budoff Brown, 2/25). 

Los Angeles Times: The health care summit "has emerged as a high-stakes gambit for President Obama and opposing Republican lawmakers, carrying risks for both sides that could not only alter the outcome of the healthcare debate but also November's midterm elections. ... A compelling performance from the president before a national TV audience could rally public opinion, which might lock down the votes of some liberal and conservative Democrats. ... A weak performance, on the other hand, or a public display of partisan bickering or sloganeering by congressional Democrats could send prospects for healthcare and the party's political fortunes plunging" (Nicholas, 2/24).

Democratic lawmakers already anticipate that no bipartisan consensus will emerge from the talk, The Washington Post reports. They are "focusing instead on a final round of intraparty negotiations that are likely to determine the fate of President Obama's top domestic priority." They view resolving the feud between House and Senate Democrats as the only way for their overhaul to move forward. If the House accepts the Senate bill, Democrats could make changes retroactively through a separate bill passed in the Senate under budget reconciliation rules, avoiding filibusters (Murray and Montgomery, 2/25).

"House Democratic leaders - although they've privately been marketing it - have publicly said they are giving Obama a chance to sell his plan before they try to rally their Caucus behind it," Roll Call reports. "But most believe Obama's blueprint, or something close to it, will be the package that finally breaks through and becomes law." Obama released his vision for a compromise between the House and Senate overhaul bills earlier this week (Bendery, 2/25).

NPR adds, "Democrats need to resolve bitter disputes within their own party over a handful of overhaul issues. The major areas of intracaucus contention include not only abortion and benefit plan taxes, but the process of reconciliation itself" (Halloran, 2/24).

Meanwhile, Republicans have a six-point "incremental" plan of their own to offer, The Wall Street Journal reports. The "plan is aimed at reducing health costs, but unlike the Democrats' proposals it wouldn't seek to provide near-universal coverage to the uninsured. Instead, it would rely on curbing malpractice lawsuits, encouraging states to experiment with their own health-system fixes and modest rule changes to prevent insurers from denying coverage to the sick." While the event offers Republicans a chance to publicize their views, its also features a pitfall: They could appear excessively "obstructionist" (Adamy and Hitt, 2/25).

Politico reports, in a second story, that Obama's own proposal focuses mainly on expanding coverage to the uninsured and less on controlling costs, even when compared to other Democratic plans. For instance, "Obama has put off a tax on high-cost health plans until 2018 - long after he's out of office, even if he's a two-termer. And in doing so, he's essentially neutered the last significant Democratic push to control health costs" (Frates, 2/24). 

The Wall Street Journal, in a separate story: If Obama's proposal "fails to generate enough support the White House has prepared the outlines of a more modest plan. His leading alternate approach would provide health insurance to perhaps 15 million Americans, about half what the comprehensive bill would cover, according to two people familiar with the planning. It would do that by requiring insurance companies to allow people up to 26 years old to stay on their parents' health plans, and by modestly expanding two federal-state health programs, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, one person said. The cost to the federal government would be about one-fourth the price tag for the broader effort, which the White House has said would cost about $950 billion over 10 years" (Meckler, 2/24).

Kaiser Health News will have excerpts and updated summaries of news coverage throughout the day.

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