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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
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Health Care and the Economy

Earlier this week, Baucus issued a health reform "white paper" calling for insurance "exchanges" similar to those in Obama's plan, as well as a program allowing adults between 55 and 65 to buy into Medicare.

Obama has said that shoring up the economy will be his first priority as president. Baucus is among those lawmakers arguing that relieving businesses and families from rising health care costs is a key part of the effort.

"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.

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