Healthcare Summit Dilemma: How Do You Lower Health Costs?

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , February 25, 2010

Focusing on the point that "it's not where we differ, but where we agree," President Obama kicked off the healthcare summit Thursday morning.

The first topic with leading congressional leaders involved in the healthcare reform discussion: how to pay for healthcare.

"The best way to increase access is to reduce costs," said Sen. Lamar Alexander(R-TN), the lead-off speaker for Republicans. And to reduce those costs, Alexander proposed-—in a refrain heard from Republican lawmakers throughout the morning—starting over with a simpler bill that would emphasize areas, such as health savings accounts, small business plans, and tort reform.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), noting the 406-19 vote yesterday in the House on the bill overturning insurance antitrust provisions, said agreements could be reached by keeping job creation in mind.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) called for Congress to "pursue the biggest pots of gold for us"—fraud and abuse. "If we started on fraud, we could cut up to 7%" of costs tomorrow." Fraud and abuse is prominent in the White House proposal released on Monday.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the current gaps dividing the parties "aren't that great"—citing areas where Republicans and Democrats were close on issues. They included health savings account, tax credits, addressing pre-existing conditions, and getting value and quality from healthcare.

The discussion will continue through the afternoon on insurance reform, expanded coverage, and deficit reduction.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at

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