Key Players in Health Care Reform Debat
HEALTH CARE REFORM UPDATE
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•A. Barry Rand
•J. James Rohack
Sen. Max Baucus, chairman, Senate Finance Committee. (CREDIT: Photo courtesy Office of the Senate)Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman, Senate Finance Committee
In his perch atop the Finance Committee, Max Baucus sits in the catbird seat for health care reform.
Good at counting votes, Baucus is in a unique position to gauge support for Obama’s health plan because his committee includes a representative cross-section of senators. If the plan passes his committee, it has a good shot at passing the full Senate and Congress as a whole. A pragmatic Democrat, Baucus gained the trust of Republicans by siding with them on Medicare changes. He favors a public health insurance option that supporters say would spur competition among private companies. This year, Baucus has brought together many of the groups that have a stake in the health care debate, seeking to establish the broadest possible coalition. Somewhat shy and quirky, Baucus nonetheless relishes his role in the health care arena. He was just reelected to a six-year term and is at the peak of his popularity and power.
Key quote: “The cost of inaction is too high. It’s too high for individuals, families, businesses, and state and federal governments.”
Dan Danner, president and CEO, National Federation of Independent BusinessDan Danner, president and CEO, National Federation of Independent Business
Donald “Dan” Danner has championed the interests of small businesses in Washington since the mid-1990s. He has lobbied Congress and been a spokesman for the organization. Through his work, he’s become a key representative of what he likes to call the “biggest job creation machine in the country.” He only recently became president of NFIB, but the title means less than his reputation as the go-to guy for small businesses.
Although it’s historically a conservative group, the NFIB has become more moderate under Danner’s leadership. In 2007, the organization joined with AARP, the Service Employees International Union and the corporate alliance Business Roundtable to form the Divided We Fail coalition, which calls for bipartisan approaches to extend health care to more Americans. The partnership gives Danner even more clout in the current debate.
Key quote: “For [small businesses], cost is still the top issue. We very much look forward to looking for a solution together that works for America’s job creators.”
Helen Darling , president, National Business Group on Health. (CREDIT: Photo courtesy National Business Group on Health) Helen Darling, president, National Business Group on Health
Helen Darling has worked in the business community for years, and her background is in health care policy, so she’s the perfect point person in the health care debate for this influential group made up of large companies that provide employee health insurance to 50 million Americans. Darling looks at health care reform from their perspective; not surprisingly, they are leery of any proposals that would call for employer mandates—which could specify a minimum basket of benefits—unless accompanied by cost controls. Darling worked at a public relations firm concentrating on health issues and once was the director in charge of purchasing health benefits for Xerox Corporation’s 55,000 U.S. employees. Before that, she worked on Capitol Hill for former Sen. David Durenberger of Minnesota, the top Republican on a Senate health subcommittee.
Key quote: “The urgency for meaningful health reform grows by the hour and our nation can no longer afford to delay action as health reform is central to healing our economy.”
Nancy-Ann DeParle (CREDIT: Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform
White House health care czar Nancy-Ann DeParle has spent nearly her entire professional life in the health policy field, starting in 1987 at age 29 when she headed the Tennessee Commission on Human Services. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she was born in Cleveland but grew up in Rockwood, Tenn. She was the first female student body president at the University of Tennessee and became a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Law School graduate. She practiced law briefly before taking on the state health job. In the 1990s, during the Clinton administration, she headed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She has good contacts in both parties on Capitol Hill, where members respect her in-depth knowledge of health care issues and her political savvy. A nearly daily presence on Capitol Hill, she’ll need to help President Obama with those who offer only tepid support for his health care plan, as well as those who oppose it altogether.
Key quote: “As I go out in the country and talk to patients and clinicians about what they want to see changed, it’s quite clear that they want to see a better health care system where physicians can treat their patients in a smarter way, get them the care that they need.”
Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff (CREDIT: M. Spencer Green/AP Photo)Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff
Friends and foes alike describe Rahm Emanuel as a sharp-elbowed enforcer, while at the same time acknowledging his smart, savvy political skills. As a former congressional leader, he was instrumental in winning back the House for Democrats in 2006—and his White House experience with former President Clinton makes him a formidable member of President Obama’s health care team. A fellow Chicagoan, Emanuel also is a close friend of Obama’s. And, he’s not shy. Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of an unprintable Emanuel tirade can attest to that. But he wants the health care feather in his cap for Obama, and that will trump everything. Emanuel’s brother, Zeke, a distinguished doctor and medical ethicist, is advising the Obama team on health care reform. Zeke has advocated a value added tax (national sales tax) to help fund health care reform; brother Rahm keeps his own counsel on such controversial matters.
Key quote: “The goal (is) getting health care costs under control. So my recommendation is, we’ll work with people of all sides ... to get things done. The challenge will be—will the Republicans come to the table with constructive ideas?”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. (CREDIT: Photo courtesy Office of the Senate)Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa
Chuck Grassley is the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. If there is going to be any bipartisanship in the health insurance reform debate, he’s the key. Grassley has been intimately involved in health care throughout his nearly 30-year career in the Senate.
A true legislator’s legislator, Grassley can put together deals and is always looking for compromise. He knows how to work the Senate chamber. A folksy, slow-talking farmer who takes phone calls in his barn when he’s home, Grassley possesses a keen intellect that he’s used effectively to root out government waste and protect whistleblowers.
The 75-year-old Grassley is wildly popular in Iowa and won his last election in 2004 with 70 percent of the vote.
Key quote: (on inclusion of a public plan in health care reform, noting Democrats are strongly for it and Republicans are strongly against): “I don’t see a compromise in that area,” he said. “But abortion is the only issue I know of that is not compromisable.”
Karen Ignagni, president and CEO, America’s Health Insurance Plans. (CREDIT: Photo courtesy America's Health Insurance Plans)Karen Ignagni, president and CEO, America’s Health Insurance Plans
If Karen Ignagni is not the most powerful lobbyist in Washington, she’s part of a very select group at the top. As the head of AHIP, she is the voice of health insurance plans, representing insurance companies that provide benefits to more than 200 million Americans.
In the early 1990s, AHIP’s predecessor, the Health Insurance Association of America, nearly singlehandedly killed former President Clinton’s attempts to reform health care nationwide by commissioning the now-famous “Harry and Louise” TV ads, which claimed that Clinton’s plan would lead to a completely “government-run” health insurance system. The plan failed partly because the ads fueled the public perception that it would offer Americans few choices. Now, Ignagni is working on the inside, as part of a group that supports President Obama’s pledge to reform the health insurance system—up to a point. Her organization is still a private-sector group, after all, and it opposes a public insurance plan that would compete with private health insurance. Such a plan, AHIP maintains, would lead to the very same government-run system Harry and Louise warned Americans about.
Key quote: “It’s a very short step to a Medicare-like program for all Americans in a single-payer system.”
Ted Kennedy (CREDIT: Courtesy Office of Sen. Kennedy)Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
There is no more enduring symbol of government efforts to reform health care in America than Sen. Edward Kennedy. In his more than 46 years in the Senate, the Democrat from Massachusetts has fought tirelessly for national health insurance and has seen some successful, incremental steps toward that goal, including passage of the expanded health insurance program for lower-income children and the approval of a Medicare prescription drug benefit. This year, he may finally see his dream of universal coverage fulfilled. Kennedy is seriously ill with brain cancer. But while his illness has often kept him away from the Senate, he frequently telephones fellow senators, issues statements on reforms and keeps up to date with the latest developments through his Senate staff.
Key quote: “This is an extraordinary moment of opportunity for real reform in health care. The American people are right to call on Congress and the administration to delay no longer in easing the heavy burden of ever-increasing health costs that crush the budgets of families and businesses alike.”
Gerald McEntee, president, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. (CREDIT: Photo by Drake Sorey)Gerald McEntee, president, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees