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Keeping the Heat on Health Care Reform

Some Lawmakers Are Pushing to Keep Health Care at Top of President-Elect's Agenda

Health Care and the Economy continued...

"Let me be clear about one thing: There's no way to really solve America's economic troubles without fixing the health care system," Baucus said on Capitol Hill this week.

One question is how the president and Congress will find the money for health reforms that could cost tens of billions of dollars per year while still funding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an estimated $700 billion recovery package for the financial industry.

"It is possible to lay out a grand health plan that is pursued in pieces as you can afford to get it done," says Karen Pollitz, director of the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University.

"That is very different than the incremental reform that has been attempted in the last 15 years [where] at the end of the day you've just danced in a circle," she says.

Rosen says Republicans have not yet settled on a strategy for health reform, whether they should try to block Democratic efforts they oppose, or work with Democrats to put a Republican stamp on new policies.

"Our guys need to work out their views. I'd say right now, they're all over the map," he says.

"It's not certain who on the Democratic side and who on the Republican side is going to show up" as the leading strategists in the health care debate, he adds.

Many lobbyists say they won't begin to have an idea of Obama's approach until he appoints a new Secretary of Health and Human Services.

"He might not do it until the State of the Union" speech soon after Obama takes office, says Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals.

"He's got to send the signal as to whether he wants to make this a signature issue of the first 100 days, or the first six months," Kahn says.

"If he doesn't make it clear, it could wind up being one of the menu issues Congress could deal with over the next few years."

Pollitz says she expects some "early action" on children's health insurance in January, but then expects the Obama administration to return with broader health reform plans before 2010.

"The man said he wants to get it done, and I believe him," she says.

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