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Health Care Summit: Controlling Health Care Costs

Controlling health care costs is, indisputably, the most important component of health care reform because if you can't control health care costs no other reforms are possible. You can't expand insurance coverage to the uninsured if you can't improve affordability. You can't do away with pre-existing condition exclusions if you don't control the costs of insuring high-risk insurance pools. And, at this point, everybody knows that you can't reduce the federal deficit without controlling health care costs.

Health Care Summit Blog: Controlling Health Care Costs

10:05AM. President Obama's Opening Remarks. After using anecdotal evidence from his own experience as a husband and father and from letters across the country to demonstrate why health care reform is needed, President Obama expresses his wish for sincere dialogue and not simply trading partisan talking points.

10:20AM. Sen. Lamar Alexander's Opening Remarks. Says the majority of Americans want reform but not in its current form. He claims the tax and subsidy paradigm, entitlement expansion, and government mandates is counterproductive to lowering health care costs. Also makes the claim that Democrats have no right to reform 17% of the economy using reconciliation.

10:35AM. Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Says health care reform is about "the character of our country." Reminds the summit that controlling health care costs also creates entitlement reform and deficit reduction. Points out that an inability to get health insurance is holding back self-employment opportunities and economic prosperity.

10:45AM. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Calls for the Summit to talk about the facts. Deplores insurance companies that slap pre-existing conditions on newborns. Says seniors are splitting their medications in half and that 45,000 Americans die each year because they don't have health insurance.

10:55AM. Pres. Obama. Agrees with Republicans that the government can't just dump money into a broken health care system, but he says that's exactly why comprehensive reform is needed to help fix the system. Warns that premiums for businesses are forecasted to double over the next years.

(Brief exchange between Pres. Obama and Sen. Alexander about the direction of premiums under the Democrats' plan. According to this Politifact.com analysis, the cost of same-coverage insurance policies in the individual market will go down 14-20%, but with reform, people will opt for better coverage, raising premiums 10-13%.)

11:00AM. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Quotes polls pointing out that health care reform and especially partisan health care reform is deeply unpopular.

11:05AM. Sen. Tom Coburn. Argues the country has been practicing bad medicine, avoiding prevention and wellness. Claims that 1 out of every 3 dollars is waste and that a huge chunk of government-run health care is fraud. Adds that a large portion of medical tests is solely for doctors to avoid liability.

11:15AM. Rep. Steny Hoyer. Talks about a healthy couple in his district who saw their monthly health insurance premiums go up 66% this year. Agrees with Sen. Coburn that one out of every three health care dollars is being wasted, but says that the current legislation includes prevention and wellness.

11:20AM. Pres. Obama. Talks about the health insurance exchange and the benefits of allowing individuals and small businesses to pool their buying power as an effective method for controlling health care costs.

11:23AM. Rep. John Kline. Argues that by allowing small businesses to buy health insurance in the same way as big business, these small businesses would be able to offer health insurance.

11:25AM. Sen. Max Baucus. Says that agreement on health care reform, more or less, already exists. Lists these areas of agreement from pre-existing conditions to insurance exchange. Says that improving the way we reimburse doctors is a potential game-changer.

11:30AM. Rep. Dave Camp. Says cutting Medicare is a step in the wrong direction. Says current reform will actually make controlling health care costs harder and that leaving out lawsuit reform is a big mistake. Says that switching to health-savings accounts from PPO health coverage helps in controlling health care costs by saving families money. (Room shifts, seems uneasy.)

11:35AM. Rep. Rob Andrews. Says that Republicans' and Democrats' versions of pooling purchasing power have only a semantic difference. Says that the federal government should be able to impose minimal health care standards.

11:40AM. Rep. Paul Ryan. Says the difference is that Democrats' version uses the federal government to regulate this purchasing power, implying that the federal government can't do this efficiently or responsibly.

11:42AM. Pres. Obama. Says the federal government's role in the health care system is a legitimate debate, but forcing people into government-run insurance is not the issue because that's not what health care reform does or will do.

11:45AM. Sen. Chuck Schumer. Says Sen. Coburn brings up a good point, and the discussion should focus on the best way to wring out fraud and abuse in controlling health care costs. Mentions Sen. Cantwell's recommendation to reward doctors on quality, not quantity. Says that Democrats only want to cut this waste from Medicare, not the money that actually reaches patients.

11:52AM. Sen. Jon Kyl. Decries the idea that the federal government should mandate better coverage, raising costs and taking the decisions out of patients' hands. Says higher costs and taxes will negatively impact the economy and small businesses disproportionately.

11:55AM. Pres. Obama. Claims that if individuals are able to purchase better health care insurance, it will create a more efficient health care system overall. Says that without basic health insurance standards interstate competition will become a "race to the bottom."

12:00PM. Rep. James Clyburn. Claims a majority of people coming into the emergency room for basic medical treatment have insurance, but can't afford the out-of-pocket expenses of going to a primary care physician. Says community-based health care centers need funding to eliminate this trend and this waste in the health care system.

12:10PM. Rep. Charles Boustany. Claims the Republicans' plan would reduce premiums 10%, possibly more in the individual market, whereas Democrats' plan would raise premiums. (Room shifts again. Fact Check.) Says agreement can be reached, but not with the current legislation. Says the solution is health savings accounts, not government regulation.

12:20PM. Rep. George Miller. Says preventative care should not carry co-pays. Mentions the absurdity of pre-existing conditions such as arthritis, kidney stones, acne, back pain, and hip replacements. Claims the only option for these individuals is to go without insurance or find a policy with a $5,000 or $7,000 deductible.

12:25PM. Sen. John McCain. Claims that despite today's Health Care Summit, the bill itself was conceived and written in backroom deals. Mentions Louisiana Purchase, Cornhusker Kickback, Pharma Deal, seniors in Arizona being treated differently than seniors in Florida. Says the health care reform process has not represented any change in Washington as both he and Obama had promised.

12:30PM. Pres. Obama. Says they're not campaigning anymore. He wants to talk about health care reform, not campaign talking points. Wants the Summit to avoid the back and forth partisanship that would occur on news networks. (In the afternoon session, McCain reiterates this point about backroom deal making and Pres. Obama concedes that it's a fair point.)

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Continue on...Health Care Summit Part 2: Health Insurance Reforms

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