Three Reasons Health Summit Could Kickstart Reform (and 3 Barriers that Remain)

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , February 26, 2010

At Thursday's healthcare reform summit meeting in Washington, President Obama and selected members from the House and Senate came to either agree—or disagree—with the current state of healthcare reform.

Basically, they came, they sat, and they talked and talked. But will it move healthcare reform to the next level?

Here's how the summit could actually kickstart health reform:

1. A sense of urgency was created.

"We cannot have another year long debate about this," Obama said near the end of the summit. "So the question that I'm going to ask myself—and that I'll ask of all of you is—is there enough serious effort that in a month's time or a few weeks' time or six weeks' time we could actually resolve something?"

Obama made it clear that he would not be attempting a summit of this magnitude again.

"I thought it was worthwhile for us to make this effort. [But] we've got a lot of other things to do. I don't think that we're going to have another one of these because people don't have seven, eight hours a day to work some of these things through."

And if the Republicans decline to give bipartisan support?

"Then I think we've got to go ahead and some make decisions," Obama said. "That's what elections are for. [When] we have honest disagreements about the vision for the country, we'll go ahead and test those out over the next several months till November."

2. Underscored that the parties had more in common with each other than the public might perceive.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said at the summit, "We may be closer together than people really think in actually getting agreement [so] that we can move forward."

"Of the 10 key elements in the House [Republican's proposed] bill, we have nine of them in our bill. That's not bad," Harkin said.

"This includes provisions on not being excluded from coverage for pre-existing conditions, no lifetime caps, no gender-bases ratings, and keeping children on a parent's health policy after they become young adults.

"The only one that's missing is the health savings accounts," Harkin added. "I think we're very close on this."

3. Could add fresh ideas into the current debate.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) suggested the two parties consider "real reform that would ... change the incentives that drive the system and empower the consumer." His plan would "build on the exchanges that we have today" that are used by the federal employee system.

"I think we can resolve a lot of our differences," he said.

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