KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Health Reform Debate Players Weigh In On Their Roles

A number of news outlets are highlighting players in the health reform debate today.

ABC News says Dr. Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel, special health adviser to the president's budget director, "has emerged as a key behind-the-scenes player for what could be the biggest overhaul of the nation's health care system in the past two decades." The brother of President Obama's chief of staff and is nervous that something could go wrong in the process.

"'What scares me is we get it wrong and we don't create something that's going to be sustainable, that has some major defects in it,' (Zeke) Emanuel said recently in an exclusive interview with ABC News. 'Establishing an exchange that is unstable, creating a more Byzantine bureaucracy, not actually ending up getting costs under control and just fueling health care inflation. Those things would be disastrous.' Even worse, Emanuel said, would be to do nothing about a health care system he calls 'unsustainable' and 'really, really dangerous.'"

In a 2008 book, Emanuel proposed that employer-provided health insurance and Medicaid and Medicare should be abolished in favor of value-added tax funded voucher for coverage. But while that's not being considered, any reform will be better than none, Emanuel said. "'Just passing a bill, while it will be a world historical event, is only the first part of actually making this thing work,' Emanuel said. 'Making sure everyone really does get affordable, high quality health care that is sustainable over time is the really big challenge'" (Parker, 6/3).

Roll Call reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has used his morning floor time for the three days in a row to characterize the Democratic attempts at including a government-run public plan in health reform as the first step toward rationing. "Republicans don't necessarily have the votes to stop President Barack Obama and the Democrats, but are hoping to influence the debate by winning the public relations battle. 'Americans want health care reform. But this isn't what they have in mind. Americans don't want their health care denied or delayed,' McConnell said. 'But once government health care is the only option, bureaucratic hassles, endless hours stuck on hold waiting for a government service rep, restrictions on care and rationing are sure to follow'" (Drucker, 6/3).

Sen. Max Baucus in the meantime, told single-payer plan advocates that he regrets not allowing more discussion of a single-payer plan in the run up to drafting health care reform, Kaiser Health News reports. "(Sen. Bernie) Sanders, I-Vt., called the meeting with Baucus 'useful and productive' but said he knew that Baucus wouldn't change his mind about not backing a single-payer system. 'But I think it's fair to say when he said something to the effect that "single payer is off the table,'" think he regrets having said that,' Sanders said (Villegas, 6/3).

Politico reports that Baucus made no assurance that single-payer would be part of any further discussions: "Baucus spokeswoman Erin Shields did not address the participants' take on the meeting in a statement. 'Senator Baucus met privately with single-payer advocates today and discussed their shared goals of providing quality, affordable health care to every American,' the statement read. 'Senator Baucus asked them to work together with him to pursue that goal this year'" (Brown, 6/3).

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