Must-see TV

If you’re not already planning to tune in to the President’s health care summit tomorrow, maybe it’s time to reconsider. It will be streamed live here, from 10 AM-4 PM Eastern. Forget Lindsey Vonn and The Office baby special: This is must-see TV.

And if you can’t convince your boss that six hours of C-SPAN is equivalent to 30 minutes for lunch, you can follow the Hub’s twitter feed right from your desktop for a live analysis of what’s going down at Blair House (and maybe a little reform haiku thrown in, too.) Reaching the Summit

With the release of his plan—really a series of amendments to the Senate-passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)—President Obama  is ready to embark on the last leg of the health reform journey. Key changes in the proposal include:

•    Improvements in affordability for low- and moderate-income families in the Exchange. Relative to the Senate bill, most families will either pay less and/or get better benefits.

•    Stronger oversight of health insurance premiums. The proposal would give the HHS Secretary the power to deny or modify excessive premium increases as well as strengthen the ability of state insurance regulators to oversee rates.

•    Phasing out of the coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole” in Medicare Part D, making prescription drugs more affordable for seniors.

•    Increased Medicaid funding for all states (and territories), while eliminating the special funding deal for Nebraska.

•    Equalizing the treatment of union and nonunion health benefits with regard to the excise tax on high-cost plans and also adjusting for age, occupation and gender of workers so that firms with an older and sicker workforce would not be hit as hard.

The President also proposed a series of payment integrity and anti-fraud measures to reduce payment errors in Medicare and Medicaid, drawn largely from Republican proposals. (Full summary of the proposal is available here).

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have reacted positively to the President’s proposal and seem poised to move forward with reform post-summit, with or without a bipartisan agreement that no one is expecting.

Interestingly, not all of the President’s proposals seem to fit neatly into the rules of budget reconciliation. This suggests that some ideas, such as increasing federal authority over insurance rates, will have to get 60 votes in the Senate in order to survive. However, this is likely a win-win for the Democrats: either the rate regulation provision stays in, or Republicans will have to go on record as siding with insurers against consumers on insurance rates.

Summit Watching Guide

The President has continued to sound the theme of bipartisanship by posting on a website all of the Republican-backed ideas already included in PPACA, and offering to post a Republican proposal or statement of principles side-by-side with the President’s plan.    Republican Congressional leaders, however, aren’t having any of it.

The continued trash-talking of the summit obscures the dirty little not-so-secret that the difference between the Republican and Democratic proposals is not about different means to reach the same end, but entirely different ends.

First, Congressional Republicans by and large reject the premise that all Americans should have guaranteed access to secure affordable health insurance and health care. Secondly, they reject the idea that a stronger public-interest watchdog and a new set of rules is needed to correct fundamental weaknesses in the current health insurance market.These are the central premises of the plans put forward by the President and Congressional Democrats and they are beliefs strongly held by the majority of Americans, notwithstanding their skittishness and disillusionment with the process. (Read Real Reform, Community Catalyst’s analysis of the differences between the approaches put forward by the President and the Republicans here.)

At least one prominent Republican, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been willing to call out his party on their stance—calling the demand that the summit start with a blank piece of paper “bogus.” (Now that’s a maverick.)

Because the divide between the two parties is so fundamental, at the summit itself we can expect neither a real attempt to reach bipartisan agreement, nor even a real debate over the merits of various policies.

Instead this will be a battle of competing narratives. The President and Congressional Democrats will to try to focus the discussion on the problems with the status quo and substantive ideas for addressing those problems, while the Republican will try to reinforce their anti-government mantra. (If watching 4 to 6 hours of this kind of sparring is not your idea of fun, you can liven it up by taking a drink every time a Republican says “job-killing big government takeover.”)

Look for a special post-summit Insider Friday!

–Michael Miller, director of strategic policy