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Neal: single payer healthcare still in the mix

Date: 6/16/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Congressman Richard Neal and the rest of the House Ways and Means Committee met with President Barack Obama last week on the subject of healthcare and the result, according to Neal, was "a pretty fluid discussion with a lot of give and take."

He said the president is "determined to go forward" with the healthcare debate and "outlined the stark economic reality unless we lasso heathcare costs."

Neal said Obama's priorities are to provide coverage for the 40 million Americans who are without health insurance and control the costs for those who are already covered.

Of the 250 million people with health coverage, Neal said surveys have shown that 80 percent are "roughly satisfied."

The issue is how to pay for the additional coverage and Neal said the president contends costs could be lowered if the uninsured received coverage.

Neal added that the federal response to the healthcare crisis might "be a reflection of what we've tried to do in Massachusetts."

Public perception of the healthcare proposals are important as Neal, who described himself as "a veteran of the Clinton healthcare battle," said, "In the end, people came to assume people would pay more and get less."

The single payer system, which would create in this country something like the European government-run healthcare system, may have been discounted by some, but Neal said the concept is "a significant part of the discussion." He explained a final plan might include a public option that would allow people to maintain their own healthcare insurance through their employers.

In his May 16 weekly address, Obama stressed the importance of the bill and asked the House to pass a bill before its August recess.

"But we know that our families, our economy and our nation itself will not succeed in the 21st century if we continue to be held down by the weight of rapidly rising healthcare costs and a broken healthcare system ... This week, I also invited Speaker of House Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and other congressional leaders to the White House to discuss comprehensive health reform legislation. The House is working to pass a bill by the end of July before they head out for their August recess. That's the kind of urgency and determination we need to achieve comprehensive reform by the end of this year. And the reductions in spending the healthcare community has pledged will help make this reform possible," Obama said.

Although, Neal said, "Congress doesn't respond well to presidential guidelines," he does expect to see a House bill by August, which would then go to a conference committee in September.

As part of the House Ways and Means Committee, Neal said he is spending about two and a half hours a day hearing testimony about how a new healthcare system should look.