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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Health Care Still Budget Priority

The Treatment, The New Rebulic's Health blog, reports that President Obama is still committed to health care.  Johnathan Cohn writes,

The Obama administration’s health care czar may be gone, but here is one hint that its commitment to pursuing major health care legislation in 2009 remains in place. On Sunday, a senior administration official told me that health care would be a “central focus” of Obama’s first budget proposal.

The official didn’t specify precisely what that meant: Would the administration be asking for funds to make sure every American has insurance, or just a portion? Would there be major reforms of the way medical care is delivered? But even with that ambiguity, the statement seems to signal that Obama still takes health care seriously and hopes to pass significant legislation in the next year.

Here's why. For the last month, the leaders of major liberal interest groups and some of Washington’s top health care experts have been nervous that Obama would not seek funding for major health care legislation when he unveiled his first annual budget proposal. The source of this anxiety was a rumor, circulating widely, that some Obama economic advisors were pushing him to put health care on the back burner--or at least to move very slowly on expanding insurance coverage--because of the huge cost and political risks inherent in any major reform effor

Those concerns intensified late last week, once former Senator Tom Daschle withdrew from the administration because of the controversies over his tax records and ties to the health care industry. Daschle, an outspoken champion of making health insurance a universal right and using government to reduce the cost of medical care, was supposed to spearhead the administration’s health care reform push. He was also close to Obama personally. . . .

Publicly, Senators Max Baucus and Ted Kennedy, who have been working together to craft health care legislation, sent Obama a letter urging him not to give up the cause. Privately, they signed onto another letter--along with Representatives Charles Rangel, Geoge Miller, Pete Stark, and Henry Waxman. That second letter, according to several Capitol Hill sources, urged Obama to include health care in his first budget. A similar letter was sent by the reform coalition “Divided We Fail,” which represents the American Association of Retired Persons, the Business Roundtable, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the Service Employees International Union. . . . They also say he believes it is important to make sure everybody (or almost everybody) has insurance, because it’s not possible to control costs while so many people lack health benefits. "I've been in meetings with him and it's clear this guy is committed to getting health care and getting coverage to everybody," says one high-ranking member of the administration. "There's no question in my mind."

And while these advisers acknowledged that the question of whether to deal with health care in the next budget had been under discussion, another senior official on Sunday indicated a decision had already been made: “Health care reform will be included--and indeed a central focus--of the budget,” this official said, while declining to offer more details. Another adviser subsequently confirmed that. (All of these sources asked not to be named.) . . . .

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