KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obama Discreetly Lobbying For Public Option In Senate Health Bill

"Despite months of outward ambivalence about creating a government health insurance plan, the Obama White House has launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to get divided Senate Democrats to take up some version of the idea for a final vote in the coming weeks," The Los Angeles Times reports. While Obama has said he prefers a public option, he has also been open to health cooperatives and other alternatives. "In the last week, however, senior administration officials have been holding private meetings almost daily at the Capitol with senior Democratic staff to discuss ways to include a version of the public plan in the healthcare bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to bring to the Senate floor this month, according to senior Democratic congressional aides. Among those regularly in the meetings are Obama's top healthcare advisor, Nancy-Ann DeParle; aides to Reid; and staff from the Senate Finance and Health committees, both of which developed healthcare bills."

In addition, the President "has also been reaching out personally to rank-and-file Senate Democrats, telephoning more than a dozen in the last week to press for action." Two public plan amendments were defeated in the Senate Finance committee last week, which "were viewed by some as the death knell of the public option, but the White House and its congressional allies are under heavy pressure from the Democratic Party's liberal base to breathe life back into it. That has Democratic leaders looking for ways to insert some form of the concept into a Senate bill without jeopardizing centrist support." The President has met recently with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who has proposed a "trigger" for the public option, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and spoke by phone with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. (Levey and Hook, 9/5).

Meanwhile, "[a]s the unemployment rate climbs, President Barack Obama is trying to make the case that his health care overhaul would create jobs by making small business startups more affordable," The Associated Press reports. In his weekly radio and internet address on Saturday, the President "linked one of his biggest challenges - joblessness - with passage of far-reaching changes to the nation's health care system. If aspiring entrepreneurs believe they can stay insured while switching jobs, Obama said, they will start new businesses and hire workers" (Babington, 10/4).  

A separate AP article reports that "President Barack Obama meets with doctors from across the country for a morning Rose Garden event on health care. The president will also deliver remarks on the need for health insurance reform" (10/5). 

The Atlanta Journal Constitution adds that a doctor from Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta "is one of more than 50 members of a health care advocacy group called Doctors for America whom Obama has invited to the White House as part of a last-minute effort to put a friendly chorus behind his calls for changes in the system." Dr. Jason Schneider of Grady Memorial "said he wants to tell the president not to give up on the idea of a public option. 'Maintaining choice and competition in the system is critical,' he said, 'but so is taking care of the uninsured, especially for health care systems like Grady.' Schneider said he also wants to give a voice to the uninsured at Grady and elsewhere, who he said get drowned out by the cacophony of critics" (Keefe, 9/4).

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