President Obama's Health Care Reform Push

“The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds," President Obama will say tomorrow at the White House forum on health care reform, a summit of 150 Democrats, Republicans, and advocates for doctors, nurses, patients, labor unions, and business groups. "By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes.”

“If we want to create jobs and rebuild our economy, then we must address the crushing cost of health care this year, in this Administration," the President will say, according to excerpts provided by the White House. "Making investments in reform now, investments that will dramatically lower costs, won’t add to our budget deficits in the long-term – rather, it is one of the best ways to reduce them.” 

White House officials say this urgent language is serious -- the president wants to see health care reform enacted and signed into law by the end of 2009. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, the chair of the one of the key congressional committees that the president is entrusting to draft the legislation, says his goal is for the Senate Finance Committee to begin drafting the legislation at the beginning of the Summer, with a bill hitting the floor of the Senate for a vote before the August recess.

So why would this effort work while previous efforts have failed?

The administration feels there are two reasons: first, health care costs have skyrocketed since the 1990s, to the degree that "every one now knows the current path is unsustainable," a White House official tells ABC News.

The other reason? Call it the un-Hillary approach to health care.

That's a reference not only to the fact that the administration is outlining principles but letting Congress work it's will -- as opposed to just handing over a big binder and saying, "Here, pass this," a senior administration official says. Tomorrow in additional to Republican congressional leaders, a senior administration official says, "you'll see some people who opposed health reform in the 90s."

That's a reference to Charles "Chip" N Kahn III, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, and Karen M. Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a successor group to the Health Insurance Association of America, which launched the "Harry and Louise" TV ads that helped sink the health care proposal drafted by President Bill Clinton's White House, led by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.

"I respect that Sen. Clinton and President Clinton tried to get health care fixed in 1993," then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, said in Henderson, Nevada, in January 2008. "But they went about it the wrong way. They went behind closed doors and tried to do it themselves. Here's what I'm going to do. We're going to have a big table. We're going to have doctors, nurses, big drug companies, insurers ... I'll sit at the table. I'll have the biggest chair because I'll be the president. I'll put my plan at the center of the table. We're going to do it on C-SPAN, so everybody will be able to see just who's saying what."

C-SPAN, in fact, will be there tomorrow. President Obama will make opening remarks after which attendees will divide into five discussion groups. One of those groups will be broadcast on C-SPAN, the others will be webcast, assuming technology cooperates. The groups will be moderated by administration officials such as Domestic Policy Chair Melody Barnes, OMB director Peter Orszag, NEC Chair Larry Summers, and newly-named White House health care czar Nancy-Ann DeParle.

Following the seminars, the president will lead a discussion with attendees in the East Room of the White House.

The White House has refrained from discussing what specifically should be in the health care plan; officials say everything is on the table. But President Obama will enumerate his eight health care reform principles tomorrow:

• Guarantee choice of health plans and physicians; • Making health coverage affordable; • Protecting families’ financial health; • Investing in prevention and wellness; • Providing portability of coverage; • Aiming for universality; • Improving patient safety and quality care; and • Maintaining long-term fiscal sustainability.

White House officials say this will be just the beginning of this process; they've also discussed community discussions to be held. Health and Human Services  Secretary-designate Kathleen Sebelius will not be in attendance; White House aides say she's still transitioning from the Kansas governor's office, and point out she has yet to be confirmed.

- jpt

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