What?s Next for Healthcare Reform?

President Obama's State of the Union AddressA few short weeks ago, it appeared President Obama might be celebrating the passage of major healthcare reform in his State of the Union address. Instead, on Wednesday, he found himself urging Congress not to abandon reform altogether. So what happened?

Republican Scott Brown?s upset Senate victory in Massachusetts played a big part. But it?s increasingly popular to blame the process itself.

?We have 2,000-page bills that are inscrutable with all sorts of favors and special deals,? says Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, a conservative public policy group. ?People feel that right now government is intrusive, oppressive and nonresponsive.?

Jonathan Cohn, author of Sick: The Untold Story of America?s Health Care Crisis?And the People who Pay the Price (Harper Perennial, 2008), says back room deals and kickbacks are nothing new for lawmakers. But the unusually drawn-out process involved in passing the two bills now in Congress gave Americans a front-row seat of our ?dysfunctional governing system.?

Cohn, who traveled the country for his book chronicling the stories of people whose lives were upended by medical problems, says that despite the unseemly deal-cutting involved, the House and Senate bills would have addressed many of the problems with healthcare today?from denial of medical claims to denial of coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

But in all the discussions and distractions, the public?and the President?lost track of the basic moral argument for reform, says T.R. Reid, author of The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (Penguin Press, 2009). ?Obama said in 2008 that a rich society has an obligation to provide health care for everyone. [But] their justification constantly changed. (Health reform) was going help the economy, save jobs, help the uninsured, stick it to cruel insurance companies. They came up with too many rationales.?

The President basically admitted as much on Wednesday night. "I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people,? Obama said. ?And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering, what's in it for me??

Hanna advocates answering that question with a series of single-purpose initiatives that address specific problems individually. What?s more, breaking up the bills would also allow Democrats to push through individual parts that could win support from both sides of the aisle. The other option is to try and get the House to pass the Senate version of the bill with the hope that the Senate will modify any unsavory portions during the reconciliation process, which only requires 51 (not 60) votes. That?s a possibility author Jonathan Cohn feels has a good chance of success.

No matter which form it takes, President Obama called on lawmakers to move forward with healthcare legislation. ?Don't walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close,? he urged in his address. ?Let us find a way to come together [and] get it done.?

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