Health care debate heats up

Republican senators urged President Obama to say no to a government-run health care plan, cautioning in a letter Monday that the public expects Congress to tackle an overhaul of the system in “an open, honest and bipartisan manner.”

President Obama says a public health plan will help consumers and keep costs down.

Obama told Congress this weekend that it’s time to deliver on health care reform, and he wants a bill on his desk by October at the latest. But as the debate heats up on Capitol Hill, it’s clear lawmakers don’t see eye to eye on the issue.
Republicans are pushing for a private system while some Democratic proposals include back a public, or government-sponsored, option. Some proposals also include a mandate that would require Americans to get insurance.
“This is going to be a long, hot summer when it comes to the debate on health care, because, as you know, there are so many proposals floating on Capitol Hill, some that include the mandate, some that [have] a public option, of course, and many Democrats would like to have the single-payer option,” Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
In a letter last week to the leading Senate Democrats involved in drafting a health care bill, Obama said he strongly believes that a public health plan should be included in any overhaul of the medical insurance system. Obama said that such a plan would help consumers and keep costs down.
During his presidential campaign, Obama called for a government-run health plan to operate alongside private insurers, but the idea has come under fire from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress.
Critics say a government-sponsored option could drive out private insurers and potentially lower the quality of health care. Some fear that such a program would hurt those who have a plan they like, because employers would opt for the government program if it were less expensive. Watch the latest on the health care debate »
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Critics also warn that a government-sponsored option could put the government between a doctor and a patient.
“At a time when major government programs like Medicare and Medicaid are already on a path to fiscal insolvency, creating a brand new government program will not only worsen our long term financial outlook but also negatively impact American families who enjoy the private coverage of their choice,” Sen. Orrin Hatch and other Republican Finance Committee members said in their letter Monday.
Supporters say that having a government-sponsored option is the only way to make sure everyone could have access to health care.
Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy distributed a draft of his bill last week and advocated the idea of a government-run option. Under Kennedy’s proposal, individuals and employers would face penalties for going without insurance. It also proposed that the government subsidize premiums for people with incomes up to 500 percent of the poverty level.
The draft did not include specifics on how to pay for the health care overhaul. Kennedy’s office insists the draft bill is just that — a draft — meaning it’s not final and could change dramatically as the health care debate picks up.
More details on how to pay for any sort of public option could emerge next week, when the Senate Finance Committee is expected to unveil at least a draft of its bill.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, has introduced a government-sponsored option that he says is intended to reduce health care disparities for all Americans. The bill includes funding provisions that would use existing government sources and a tax increase on the top 5 percent of income earners.
Hatch said Monday that the whole idea of a government-sponsored option is a deal-breaker.
“In order to really handle health care, it can’t be a partisan issue. It’s not a Democrat issue. It’s not a Republican issue. It has to be bipartisan. I don’t know of any Republican who wants a public plan. And, frankly, it’s a nonstarter,” said Hatch, who has worked with Democrats for years on health care.
Obama urged lawmakers to come together on health care, warning that fixing the system is “a necessity we cannot postpone any longer.”
“This week, I conveyed to Congress my belief that any health care reform must be built around fundamental reforms that lower costs, improve quality and coverage, and also protect consumer choice. That means if you like the plan you have, you can keep it. If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too. The only change you’ll see are falling costs as our reforms take hold,” he said in his weekly address Saturday.
Democrats need at least some Republican support in order to move their bill through Congress.
This weekend, the Democratic Party’s advocacy arm, Organizing for America, kicked off a campaign-style lobbying effort, hosting meetings across the country to build public support for the health care push.
Republicans, however, say efforts like that aren’t working.
“Activating the grass-roots effort from the campaign is one way to keep your campaign effort alive. It is not a particularly effective way to create a bipartisan solution to an important problem,” said Rep. Roy Blunt

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