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The State of the (Healthcare) Union

January 26, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
  • President Barack Obama invited ideas for improving the new healthcare reform law in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama invited ideas for improving the new healthcare… (Nicholas Kamm, AFP / Getty…)

It was touted as a kinder, gentler State of the Union address, a "date night" in which Republicans and Democrats, such as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) sat together instead of on opposite sides of the Capitol's House chamber.  An evening when the outbursts of applause seemed a bit less herdlike than they usually do.

But it seemed clear throughout that American government remains starkly divided on healthcare.

Perhaps feeling there wasn't much left to say, the president didn't talk a whole lot about healthcare reform during his address Tuesday night.

"I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new healthcare law," President Barack Obama joked.

Obama invited Republicans to offer new ideas -- "anything can be improved," he said -- but he stood firm on key provisions of the law, including the one that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions.

Later in the address, Obama said that seeking cuts to healthcare costs would remain a priority and that Medicare and Medicaid, "the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit," were on the table for streamlining.  He signaled willingness to consider Republican proposals for medical malpractice reform.

Obama said that the law passed last year would ultimately save money.  

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who offered the Republican response to the speech, disagreed, saying the reform law "is driving the explosive growth" of American debt and renewing the call to throw the law out.
 
One suggestion for healthcare reform reform that seemed to inspire bipartisan applause from audience members:  a seemingly straightforward and modest pledge to correct "a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses." 

As to exactly what kind of change might be in the works, the Hill's Healthwatch blog reported Wednesday morning that it remains very unclear.

Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, president of the American Medical Assn., said in a statement that the AMA applauded the president's openness toward malpractice reform.  Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards spoke out against the Republican efforts to overturn the healthcare law.

Representatives of the nation's biotechnology industry lauded Obama's goal to increase investment in scientific research and education. Dr. William T. Talman, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, said in a press release that the president's words were "gratifying to the thousands of young Americans who have dedicated themselves to pursuit of careers in science and engineering" and that increased investment would "inspire others to follow their lead."

But for the time being, the people most inspired seemed to be the president's detractors. 

Scarcely 12 hours after the speech ended, the march to throw out healthcare reform continued. Wednesday morning, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) introduced a repeal bill in the Senate much like the one the House passed last week.  

RELATED: Times coverage of the State of the Union address.

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