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Democrats are urged to preserve broad healthcare overhaul

As lawmakers explore ways to scale back the House and Senate bills, consumer groups and patient advocates say, 'Now is not the time to turn back.'

January 22, 2010|By Noam N. Levey

Reporting from Washington — Even as congressional Democrats began examining ways to scale back their far-reaching health legislation, a wave of consumer groups, patient advocates and doctors on Thursday called on Democrats not to abandon the comprehensive health overhaul they've worked so long to pass.

"The legislation passed by the House and Senate would broaden access to quality, affordable healthcare to tens of millions of people who are currently uninsured or underinsured," wrote leaders of AARP, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Consumers Union, Families USA and Service Employees International Union.

The joint letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

"The bills also make important changes to emphasize disease prevention, place greater emphasis on healthcare quality, and take vital steps to improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery systems," the groups said. "The legislation is not perfect. No bill is. But now is not the time to turn back."

Leaders of the American Medical Assn. also voiced continued support for efforts to expand insurance coverage and reshape the nation's healthcare system.

"We're the last . . . industrialized country that has not figured out how to do this. It is time," said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, immediate past president of the AMA.

Also joining the call for action were liberal grass-roots powerhouse MoveOn.org and Health Care for America Now, a coalition of left-leaning consumer groups and labor unions.

Many Democrats on Capitol Hill, shaken by Tuesday's Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate race, are pushing for more limited healthcare legislation that focuses on popular initiatives, such as preventing insurance companies from canceling consumers' policies when they get sick.

"We ought to be able to come up with a scaled back version of healthcare reform and get it done very quickly," Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) said Thursday after House Democrats met to discuss ways to salvage their health campaign.

President Obama has expressed interest in such an approach as well.

Democrats also face continued pressure from Republicans to abandon their healthcare overhaul. "The bottom line is, nobody wants this bill but Washington's special interests," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday. "And if they jam it through, I think they're going to face a firestorm from the American public."

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Pelosi acknowledged that she does not have the votes to pass the Senate's sweeping healthcare bill, one option that had been under consideration.

Senior Democrats have begun exploring whether it would be possible to craft more limited bills that would strengthen restrictions on insurance companies, expand Medicare drug coverage for seniors and promote more disease prevention, among other things.

But many involved in the health debate believe that breaking apart the painstakingly assembled legislation into smaller parts presents a major challenge because the healthcare system is so interconnected.

"This is very hard to do in a truncated form," said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of the seniors' group AARP.

Democratic leaders are still exploring the possibility of passing the Senate bill in the House along with a package of changes that would address disagreements, such as the Senate's tax on high-end "Cadillac" health plans.

"Everything is on the table," Pelosi said.

noam.levey@latimes.com

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