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The One Bill Strategy

A top aide says Senator Ted Kennedy is trying to persuade colleagues to unite behind a single universal health care bill that will use President-elect Obama's health plan as a blueprint. HELP Committee staff director Michael Myers says the Senator, based on past experiences, believes that the best way, maybe the only way to "get this done" is to have just one bill. He says Obama will be a unifying force. This would mean that Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Max Baucus and others would have to agree to drop or amend their plans. Myers says there is already a lot of discussion among Democrats about how to come together. Now that the election is over, talks across the aisle are expected to begin soon and will be difficult.

A key issue is the cost of expanding health coverage. Myers says the one bill will address health care costs, but will probably not have enough savings to cover the expense of helping more Americans get health insurance. He mentions more use of electronic records and better safety and quality measures as ways to hold down rising health care costs. Ron Pollack, the director of Families USA, is worried that while these initiatives would save money over time , they will not produce the immediate savings needed to pass a bill.

Dennis Rivera, who chairs SEIU's Healthcare efforts, supports the one bill strategy. He says competition would hurt momentum he hopes to build for action on a Universal Coverage bill in the first 100 days of the next session.

SEIU will try to keep pressure on Congress to pass Universal Coverage by launching a mass campaign. In January, SEIU will send close to 5,000 workers across the country, to identify 100 million Americans who will "create a drumbeat" on health care reform. Rivera says SEIU learned from the election of President Bill Clinton that the public has to keep pressing elected leaders, beyond the campaign season, to make sure promises are kept.

Myers, Pollack and Rivera say they see unprecendented interest and cooperation from a wide group of stakeholders who agree that Congress must do something about covering the uninsured and reducing health care spending soon. They say public interest is also unusually high.

I asked Myers to clarify...is there really broad agreement among Democrats on including an insurance mandate for children and fines for larger employers who don't offer health insurance? Myers says the experience in Massachusetts shows broad support for these elements in Massachusetts. But (editorial comment here) Massachusetts is not like the rest of the country and I don't think it's wise to assume that what flies here will be acceptable in many other states.

Martha Bebinger

This program aired on November 6, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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