Republicans and Democrats today showed fleeting signs of willingness to talk about specific ideas for changing the U.S. health finance system.
President Obama brought lawmakers to Blair House, the vice presidential residence, for a summit meant to find out what, if any, overlap there really is between the Democratic positions and the Republican positions on health care and health insurance.
“I’d like to make sure this is a discussion and not just us trading talking points,” Obama said.
During the early hours of the summit, Democrats continued to talk about their constituents’ health coverage horror stories and their worries about their own pre-existing conditions, and Republicans continued to complain about the Democrats hammering out health bills in sessions that excluded Republicans.
Lawmakers also talked briefly about areas of possible policy position overlap.
Participants seemed open to the idea that they might agree, in principle, on ideas such as:
- Ensuring that people with preexisting conditions can still buy health insurance.
- Reducing “defensive medicine” by protecting doctors from frivolous malpractice lawsuits.
- Reducing fraud and waste in Medicaid and Medicare.
At one point, Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., looked at a Republican and conceded that the Democrats’ proposed health insurance purchasing exchange system for individuals and small groups appears to resemble the Republicans’ proposed association health plan system, which would give small businesses the ability to form multistate health insurance purchasing groups.
“The idea of exchanges is a Republican idea,” Obama said at another point.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who presented the Republicans’ opening statement, said Republicans’ share Obama’s interest in improving the U.S. health care system.
“We want you to succeed,” Alexander said. “If you succeed, our country succeeds.”
But the proposal the Obama administration released earlier this week is too similar to the Senate health bill, which is unpopular with the American people, Alexander said.
The Obama administration proposal would dump tens of millions of people into Medicaid, or a Medicaid-like program, and Medicaid is not known for offering the kind of coverage that most people would want, Alexander said.
The Obama administration proposal also is too complicated and too expensive, Alexander said.
The Democrats should start with relatively small, focused steps, such as reforming the medical malpractice system, Alexander said.