The 20 people who regularly attend the meetings on Capitol Hill include lobbyists for AARP, Aetna, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Business Roundtable, Easter Seals, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the United States Chamber of Commerce.Because Kennedy chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, he will have a significant voice in health care reform.
All of the Democratic presidential candidates pledged to deliver health care reform, and President Obama's proposed budget commits $634 billion to this purpose. Obama, however, promised to host public and transparent meetings (potentially aired by C-SPAN), and he has strongly condemned the influence of lobbyists in Washington. Despite Obama's critical stances toward lobbyists, Kennedy's "workhorse group" could potentially reach a consensus that ultimately shapes the content health care reform.
Some Care Providers and Consumer Groups Cry "Foul"
The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen has criticized the secret meetings for lacking inclusiveness. Particular, the group argues that advocates of a "single-payer" system have not been invited to the discussions. A joint statement prepared by Sydney Wolfe and James Floyd, two medical doctors who are researchers for the group, urges President Obama to consider input from advocates of a single-payer system:
The president wants this process to be open and transparent, with the goal of achieving universal coverage. However, groups representing physicians, nurses, and consumers who advocate for a single-payer system of national health insurance have thus far been excluded from the summit.Floyd also wrote a column on the subject for the Huffington Post. In that article, Floyd observes that representatives from organizations such as "Physicians for a National Health Program, the California Nurses Association, Healthcare-Now," and other groups that favor a single-payer system are "notably absent" from the list of attendees at Kennedy's private meetings.
Under a single-payer system, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers are paid from a single fund administered by the government. The system would eliminate the wasteful spending and high administrative costs of private insurance, saving almost $400 billion annually. This savings is enough to provide every American with the same high-quality care, including those who currently have insurance but still cannot afford medications and treatment.
Advocates for a single-payer system believe that the nation can only afford universal coverage by eliminating the costs associated with privately run insurance companies. Clearly this idea will provoke very heated debates, because it basically threatens to eliminate insurance companies. I cannot see this idea gaining traction because Obama himself has not advocated the position and because insurance companies have a powerful lobby. But the idea is extraordinarily similar to Obama's assertion that the government should eliminate private companies that administer government-backed student loans.
All relevant parties should negotiate and study a matter as significant and expensive as health care reform. In order to reach an appropriate outcome, all voices must have a seat at the table (to borrow from Obama's own words). Instead, it appears that all voices except for single-payer advocates (and those who do not want reform at all) are present at the moment.
Of course, things are in a preliminary stage, but budget talks will soon commence, and the issue of health care reform will take center stage following the allocation of funds. In order to ensure the best outcome, the process should include additional voices and become open and transparent; otherwise, the process will give legitimacy to critics who fear that a "backdoor deal" among powerful interests will decide the issue.