Obama Unveils Compromise Health Care Deal
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
President Obama today tried a new way to jumpstart his stalled health care overhaul. He unveiled his own detailed health proposal and put it on the Internet. It's intended as a starting point for a bipartisan health care summit set for Thursday.
NPR's Julie Rovner tells us what's in it.
JULIE ROVNER: Until now, the president has very much avoided getting bogged down in the details of the various health bills, leaving that to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. But with the entire effort basically at a standstill, the administration decided it needed to get, well, more actively involved. Dan Pfeiffer is the White House communications director.
Mr. DAN PFEIFFER (Communications Director, Obama Administration): We took our best shot at bridging the differences. We think this may take some strong steps to improving the final product.
ROVNER: It's not by any means a new bill. In fact, it's the bill passed by the Senate Christmas Eve with some key changes. A few of those changes were already on the way to being worked out by Democratic congressional leaders just before the election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts deprived Democrats of their 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. Those include things like a scaling back of the excise tax on so-called Cadillac health plans, those are plans with very generous benefits. The president's plan also includes bigger subsidies for middle income individuals who will be required to purchase health insurance under the bill.
A few things are genuinely new. There's far more financial help for states with the new costs in the bill for Medicaid, that's the joint federal-state health program for the poor. And there's a provision to take advantage of the public backlash against a proposal by California's Anthem Blue Cross to raise some of its premiums by as much as 39 percent. A new federal board would oversee such proposals, potentially rejecting such rate hikes. Here's how White House health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle described the board.
Ms. NANCY-ANN DEPARLE (Director, White House Office of Health Reform): It will provide federal assistance and oversight to states in conducting reviews of unreasonable rate increases and other unfair practices of insurance plans.
ROVNER: Now, how that board would co-exist with the authority already in the bill for new health insurance exchanges is unclear. But at his daily briefing, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs offered a pithier reason for its inclusion in the bill.
Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): The American people want someone to be on their side looking in.
ROVNER: The health insurance industry however is not amused by what it sees as politicking at its expense. In a separate conference call with reporters, Karen Ignagni, of the industry trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, says you can't simply look at insurance premiums in a vacuum.
Ms. KAREN IGNAGNI (President and CEO, America's Health Insurance Plans): It ignores the inconvenient truth that premium increases reflect increases in the underlying costs of medical services.
ROVNER: In other words, she said, to take the example to your local car lot.
Ms. IGNAGNI: This would be like capping the price automakers can charge consumers but letting the steel, rubber and technology manufacturers charge the automakers whatever they want.
ROVNER: Critics, of course, point out that unlike automakers, many health insurance companies are earning huge profits these days, even while raising premiums. Still, the president's plan wasn't intended to please the insurance industry. It was intended to reach out to Republicans who will be attending the health summit on Thursday. But it didn't seem to impress any of them. Michigan Congressman Dave Camp is the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. He says the president isn't listening to Republicans and he's not listening to the American people either.
Representative DAVE CAMP (Republican, Michigan; Member, House Ways and Means Committee): They don't want a trillion dollar bill that's going to take thousands of pages of legislation. And it'll raise taxes, increase the debt, cause them to lose their health care.
ROVNER: And what do the Republicans want?
Rep. CAMP: I think we ought to work on a bill that doesn't cut Medicare, that doesn't raise taxes, that doesn't put more debt on the American people.
ROVNER: Meaning anyone who is thinking Thursday's summit will result in some huge bipartisan agreement should probably think again.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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