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AHIP Speakers Debate Health Care Reform

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While discussion of health care reforms have been a mainstay of the primary season, actually carrying out such proposals would be an enormous undertaking, according to 2 political commentators.

Speaking at the America’s Health Insurance Plans National Policy forum in Washington Tuesday, Democratic campaign strategist Donna Brazile and a Republican consultant counterpart, Michael Murphy, discussed how they see the Democratic nomination race playing out and the prospects for the general election in November.

Although the talk was supposed to be on the topic of how the healthcare proposals put out by the campaigns could affect the agenda in Washington next year, the uncertainty surrounding the Democratic nomination colored the discussion.

“When they signed up for this gig, they probably thought it would be a quieter day than it turned out be,” said the panel’s moderator, Urban Institute senior fellow Leonard Burman, who added jokingly, “I’m glad they showed up.”

In addition to not being a part of the campaigns of either Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., or Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Brazile also noted that she is among the undecided “superdelegates” who will vote to nominate one or the other at the party’s convention in Denver.

Although backing Sen. McCain, Murphy also said he believes that Obama will win the Democratic nomination, given his lead among pledged delegates and the tenor of the election thus far.

“It’s a classic wrong-track election,” he said in reference to a poll asking Americans whether the country is on the right or wrong track. In the election cycle, he said, Gallup pollsters are seeing the highest “wrong track” numbers they’ve ever seen. Murphy said he believes Obama has successfully connected with voters looking to change the country’s course.

As far as healthcare policy goes, Burman set the landscape on which the debate will take place, one in which spending for entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare account for increasing portions of the federal budget. Anyone seeking to enhance those programs, or to establish a federal entitlement that would guarantee health care coverage for all Americans, “is going to have to be able to argue that this new entitlement isn’t going to make the problem worse,” he said.

The current downswing in the economy “makes it even harder” to enact any major changes in healthcare policy, Murphy said.

However, Brazile said that should a Democrat be victorious in November, expectations will be high for some policy proposals to be unveiled in the first 100 days of the next presidency.

“It’s almost like a deal breaker” if a Democratic president were to shelve their healthcare proposal, she said. Both Obama and Clinton “will want to get something out on the table quickly,” she added.

Murphy raised the notion that proponents of universal health care may have a better chance to accomplish at least part of their goal under the administration of a Republican open to compromising with a Democratic Congress, such as McCain. If instead faced with a Democratic White House and Congressional majority, Republicans would be more likely to block even incremental legislation, just as Democrats have done during the Bush administration, he said.

Murphy also responded to a question of why nobody speaks about “socialized” healthcare anymore, saying the term has become a code word for a single-payer system that has little support from Americans who already have coverage and are generally satisfied with it.

“Everybody wants to change the system,” he said, “but nobody wants to change their plan.”


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