Live-blogging the Health Care Summit

BY News Desk  February 25, 2010 at 5:00 PM EST

The Rundown is following President Obama’s bipartisan health care reform summit Thursday and offering updates and insights from the NewsHour news desk and correspondent Judy Woodruff, as well as commentary and opinion from three analysts, throughout the event.

Update: 6:47 PM EST

In post-summit interviews, the Senate’s respective party leaders had opposing opinions of what the next steps for health reform should be.

Majority leader Harry Reid pledged swift action on the stalled legislation. “It is time to do something and we are going to do it,” Reid said, quoted Reuters.

Minority leader Mitch McConnell renewed his call to start over in the bid to draft bipartisan legislation.

“I was discouraged,” McConnell told reporters. “I think it is pretty clear” that President Obama and his fellow Democrats want to continue to pursue their own sweeping measure. “What we think he ought to do is start over,” he said.

Update: 5:26 PM EST

Obama wraps up the summit, speaking for about 15 minutes — both synthesizing the day’s discussion and challenging Republicans to recognize areas of agreement and compromise on additional issues. He suggests Republicans do “some soul searching” to find a deal that that gets 30 million uninsured people coverage and deals with the issue of preexisting conditions, while acknowledging that, “I don’t know if we can close that gap [between the parties' positions.]“

In his closing remarks, Obama said he wanted to see if there’s a way to proceed with interstate purchase of health insurance, but in a way that provides baseline protections. He said that did not constitute a “big-government takeover,” rather this is a standard thing done along the lines of regulating the safety of food, drugs and the medical profession. “The same things should apply when we think about insurance,” he said.

As for the size of the health reform plan, “We’d love to have a 5-page bill,” he said, but added that “baby steps don’t get you to the place you need to go” and that to cover 30 million uninsured Americans “that’s going to cost some money.”

As for areas of agreement, he said that he and Tom Coburn would agree on a great number of reform provisions: reducing medical errors, incentivizing doctors to coordinate better, improve price transparency and prevention.

The president said he was not interested in “starting over” on reform and said that he didn’t expect to see another reform summit. “If we saw movement — significant movement, not just gestures — then you wouldn’t need to start over because essentially everyone here would know what the issues are and procedurally we could get things done pretty quickly,” the president said.

“Is there enough serious effort that in a month’s time we could actually resolve something?” Obama said. “If we can’t, we have to make some decisions. Then that’s what elections are for.”


Update: 5:00 PM EST

House Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., takes the insurance industry to task, saying it has acted ‘shamefully.’ She also takes the time to call out two factual errors she says have been allowed to stand in the discussion today: She asserts, to John Boehner, that there is no public funding of abortion in the bills; and to Dave Camp that the cuts in these bills do not cut Medicare benefits for seniors.

Update: 4:55 PM EST

Long-serving Michigan Rep. John Dingell referenced a quote from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “I think any Republican that says you should start from scratch, I think that’s bogus talk, and that’s partisan talk.” Dingell said rising health care cost projections are a “recipe for disaster” and said that high-risk pools are “a race to the bottom” that will drive insurers to move to places with the least regulation and protection for consumers. “Why in name of common sense are we being so fussy?” he asked his colleagues, adding another possible case of foreshadowing on a
reconciliation vote by Senate Democrats. “I beg you my friends we go forward on this great task,” he closed with.

Update: 4:48 PM EST

Tom Coburn again suggests that the process needs to start again with a point-by-point examination. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., responds by asking why they should scrap the 70 percent the two sides agree on. “I hope we leave here not thining that we’re going to start over,” he said.

Update: 4:44 PM EST

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., shared a story about a boy named Marcela whose mother got sick, then lost her job, lost her health care coverage and then couldn’t get in to see a doctor and eventually died.

“Too many Americans are in a box and they don’t have a choice,” she said, saying that many have been denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions or because small businesses had the price of their premiums too much to insure their employees. She said many Americans are passionate about the public option, and she said insuring 30 million more Americans would lower the cost of coverage on average $1,000 per family that does have coverage.

Update: 4:37 PM EST

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., weighs in for the first time and he echoes a sentiment many Republicans around table, most notably Boehner, expressed: “We know from the polling that has been done how the American people feel about this bill,” he said. “The American people oppose this proposal…. The solution is to put it on the shelf and start over.”

Update: 4:36 PM EST

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., says that Republicans have been talking about “incremental” changes to the health care system while Democrats have been talking about “comprehensive” changes. “We could all be for real reform. Real reform changes the
incentives that drive the system, particularly in empowering the consumer,” he said. He spoke about how insurance companies need to be accountable and there needs to be universal coverage to allow every American to fire his or her insurance company if they’re not doing a good job.

Update: 4:21 PM EST

Chris Dodd, D-Conn., takes on the issue of the uninsured and coverage, which is he calls “absolutely critical.” Calling the uninsured “the critical constituency,” Dodd argues that extending coverage must be achieved because everyday, 14,000 Americans lose their health care, and emergency health care for them costs taxpayers about $1100 per person per year. Dodd urged action because, in the next 10 years, every state will have a 10 percent increase in the number of uninsured citizens.

Update: 4:16 PM EST

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., tells the summit that Americans are “vehemently” opposed to the bill in front of him. He said politicians should clean the health reform effort slate, using an extended metaphor to shaking an Etch A Sketch.

Update: 4:07 PM EST

Thomas Mann: John Boehner gave an amalgam of Republican talking points, completely unrelated to the fiscal problems under discussion. The virtue of his remarks are their transparency. Under his leadership, Republicans are out to kill health reform and nothing else. Jim Cooper followed with the most honest and least-partisan statement from members of Congress at the summit. He made more than a few people around the table very uncomfortable.

Update: 4:02 PM EST

Ron Pollack: We know that these provisions only work IF we also provide robust
premium subsidies for low- and middle-income people so that they can
afford to buy coverage. This is exactly what the president’s proposal
provides. In the Democratic proposal, no family or individual who
would face financial hardship would ever have to purchase coverage
they can’t afford. No person would be forced to purchase coverage if
it is counter to his or her religious beliefs. But people who clearly
can afford coverage will no longer be able to avoid buying coverage
and thus shift the cost of their care when they do get sick onto those
Americans who are responsible and purchase coverage. We know today
that families with insurance pay a “hidden health tax” of more than
$1,000 a year to pay for the care of people without insurance.

Further, reforming the insurance market so that everyone can buy
coverage regardless of their health status or pre-existing conditions
cannot be done without individual responsibility. To do so — as
Republicans appear to suggest — will clearly RAISE premiums for both
individuals and businesses.

Update: 3:58 PM EST

Thomas Mann: Rep. Paul Ryan initiated one the most interesting exchanges in the summit. Ryan is smart and knowledgeable on budgetary matters and he raised some fundamental questions about long-term problems in the financing of public health programs including Medicare and Medicaid. Sadly, he ended his remarks with a refrain of his party’s talking points: let’s start from scratch and move step-by-step – instead of outlining his own ambitious plan to restructure these programs. That would have been more honest and informative, but it wouldn’t have fit with his party’s political strategy.

Update: 3:45 PM EST

After McCain, President Obama said that he didn’t think most Americans care about the inner-workings of the Senate, in reference to the debate over whether Democrats should proceed down the 51-vote reconciliation path. “I think most Americans think a majority vote makes sense,” the president said, adding that he thinks health reform is an issue that could bridge the two parties.

Mr. Obama said he disagreed with Boehner on the scope of medical malpractice’s role in driving up health costs. The president added that there were some legislative examples that he would be interested in pursuing, turning to Coburn saying that he has spoken about allowing states to experiment more vigorously to reduce frivolous lawsuits and reduce defensive medicine costs.

Update: 3:38 PM EST

McCain speaks again — about an hour ago, he had an exchange with Pres. Obama that earned some chuckles around the room when Medicare Advantage was being discussed: McCain asked why should it make sense to carve out or exempt 800,000 people in Florida who would not lose Medicare Advantage. Obama replied with, “I think you make a legitimate point.”

Now, McCain brings up medical malpractice reform, citing reforms in California and Texas that have resulted in a decrease in lawsuits and an increase in doctor recruitment. He encourages those same reforms be adopted nationwide. He also says that using the legislative process of reconciliation — which would help the Democrats pass a Senate bill with less than the filibuster-proof 60 votes — in the case of health care reform would only result in greater partisanship and damage the culture of the Senate.

Update: 3:25 PM EST

House Minority Leader John Boehner takes the floor and says: I don’t disagree on the premise of this meeting. Our job is to listen. And the thing I have heard more over the past few months is that the American people want us to scrap this bill. …This 2700-page bill will bankrupt our country. And it’s a ‘dangerous experiment.’

Obama responds by saying the challenge is that they begin to have a good conversation on specifics and then go back to standard talking points. That doesn’t drive Congress toward an agreement on issues.

Robert Laszewski: “Paul Ryan just did a tour de force critical of the Democrat’s claim their bill pays for itself by outlining all of the accounting gimmicks in the bill. Ryan was correct in his assessment and his charge that the Dem’s bill doesn’t bend any cost curves. The most disappointing part of the Democrat’s health bills is how tepid they are in controlling costs–their efforts have been more entitlement expansions than real systemic health care system reform.

But the Republicans have been no more willing to take on the big health care special interests toward the reforms we really need to in fact “bend any cost curves.”

The big “elephant” in this room is that neither side has been ready to seriously take on the health care cost question by changing the way the incentives work for the big special interests that collect the $2.5 trillion we will spend this year.”

Update: 3:07 PM EST

A spat over the role of the Congressional Budget office. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., says that the CBO has said that the Democrats’ bill will reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion over 10 years, and questions Rep. Paul Ryan’s critique of the CBO numbers. “we have to work with what the referee said,” he says.

Ryan cuts in to say he was not questioning CBOs legitimacy. “I’m not questioning their score, I’m questioning the reality of their score,” he says.

Update: 2:50 PM EST

The back and forth on reducing the deficit begins. Vice President Biden opens this section of the meeting, making the case for the Democrats’ bill. He says the government is currently spending $919 billion on Medicare and the federal portion Medicaid. By 2019, that annual bill will reach $1.7 trillion “if we don’t do something to bend that curve.”

“We can argue on the margins” Biden said, “but the fact is that not just the CBO said it — a Business Roundtable study shows that Senate plan slows growth by 15 to 20 percent.”

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., responds with a strong critique: “The bill does not reduce deficits,” he says, adding that it instead adds a new entitlement program at a time there’s no money for it. He says the bill is full of “gimmicks and smoke and mirrors,” and that it will raid money from Medicare to pay for new entitlement programs.

Update: 2:41 PM EST

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., makes the case for across-state-line purchasing of insurance, saying it increases competition and offers consumers the ability to buy policy that suits their needs. But she criticizes the current plan in the Senate bill that would require states to have compacts, which Blackburn calls ‘too much bureaucracy’, and that it would not implement changes until 2016.

President Obama says he agrees with the idea of allowing across-state-line purchasing, and that there could be a way of resolving the philosophical differences over how to do it, once an insurance exchange was set up.

Update: 2:30 PM EST

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, likens the state of people with pre-existing conditions to segregation: “We don’t allow segregation in this country. 20 years ago said we wouldn’t allow segregation based on diability [...] But we still allow it on the basis of health.”

Then, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., criticizes the Democrats’ plan for allowing the “unelected” secretary of health and human services to set standards for health care plans.

Next, President Obama takes the Boehner bill to task for relying on high-risk pools to insure people with pre-existing conditions. He echoes Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) by saying that that won’t work, because unless people at all risk levels are pooled, insurance will be too expensive.

Rep. Camp responds by saying that the Republicans will offer enough monetary support to make high-risk pools work.

Robert Laszewski: “Good for Mike Enzi! The senator just said he likes insurance exchanges and asked it the President and the Dems couldn’t be more flexible on the definition of a standard benefit package–assuring that HSAs can be part of it all, for example. Enzi just put something on the table that could be the basis of a breakthrough on this issue of defining benefit packages, which the Republicans have been objecting to.

But the President just skimmed over Enzi’s comments and went to the next Democrat. A missed opportunity.”

Update: 2:09 PM EST

President Obama opened the second half of the summit still focused on insurance reform. He also said that he hoped the meeting could finish up by 4:15 p.m., only 15 minutes later than scheduled.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., took the floor next. He said that he liked the idea of insurance exchanges, but suggested changes to how they’d be structured, including the idea of listing -all- insurance plans on the exchange, and then marking the ones that met federal standards.

Update: 2:01 PM EST

President Obama’s remarks to the press pool during the lunch break:

Q: How is it going, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: It’s interesting. I mean, I don’t know if it’s interesting watching it on TV, but it’s interesting being part of it.

Q: Are you making progress?

Q: How is the progress?

THE PRESIDENT: I think we’re establishing that there are actually some areas of real agreement and we’re starting to focus on what the real disagreements are. If you look at the issue of how much government should be involved — the argument that Republicans are making really isn’t that this is a government takeover of health care, but rather that we’re insuring the — or we’re regulating the insurance market too much. And that’s a legitimate philosophical disagreement. We’ll hopefully be able to explore it a little more in the afternoon.

Judy Woodruff: “The big surprise that emerged in the morning session of the health care summit is how much agreement there is between Republicans and Democrats over the fact that health care needs to be reformed, and over many aspects of the current system that most need changing. But — no surprise — there was stark disagreement over how to proceed . President Obama repeatedly asked Republicans to work with him, to try to focus on areas of common ground, because of the critical and long-overdue need to fix the health care system. But GOP lawmakers focused instead on what they don’t like in the existing reform plan, insisting that the whole thing be thrown out, so the process can start all over again. Time and again, Senators like Lamar Alexander of Tennesee and Representatives like Charles Boustany, a physician from Louisiana, zeroed in on what they cannot accept. At this stage, prospects for compromise look dim. We’ll see if anything changes after the lunch break.”

Thomas Mann: “Not surprisingly, Obama is dominating the summit. He has the chair, he is the president, and he is the only participant who appears open to arguments and evidence and substantively well informed and articulate. If nothing else, this should stiffen the spine of his Democratic colleagues. The discussion reinforces the underlying the reality that if health reform is to pass, it will do so with only Democratic support. Republicans believe they are winning the issue in the public domain and they have no incentive to help the Democrats pass a bill.

Robert Laszewski: “The President has constantly made the point this morning that both sides are closer than it might have seemed during the course of this debate.

It seems to me that begs a question: If there really is an opportunity to bridge these differences then why do the Democrats need to use reconciliation to ram a partisan bill through?

It will not be possible to work out any real deal during the course of one day in front of the cameras. But will the President call for follow-up conversations at the end of this day or will Democrats just break-off the process and try reconciliation?

I hope the Republicans take the bait and begin to focus more on what they all agree on more than on what they disagree on. That would give the President an opening to keep this process going.

It would be a real tragedy to miss this opportunity.”

Update: 1:16 PM EST

We have heard several members of congress casually reference that one in three health care dollars is lost in fraud and waste. Louis Saccoccio, executive director of the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association (NHCAA) points out the important distinction between fraud, which is intentional, and waste, which be may be attributable to inefficiencies and errors among other things. His organization estimates that up to 3 percent of what we spend on health care is lost in fraud.

What members of congress may be referencing is a study published by Thomson Reuters in Oct. 2009. Summary available here, full text of pdf is here.

Update: 12:57 PM EST

Break for House vote.

Ron Pollack: “On a short-term basis, there is wide agreement that improving high-risk pools is a good idea and would provide a bit of help to people until there is meaningful reform. But high-risk pools far fall short of solving problems in the long term: 1) High-risk pool premiums are unaffordable to most people. In many states, they are twice as high as premiums outside of the pools. 2) People who are unhealthy are trapped in these high-cost plans. They cannot choose to buy the same policies that other people can buy. 3) They still often exclude coverage of pre-existing conditions for a period of time.”

Update: 12:54 PM EST

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., comes back to the topic of pre-existing conditions. She says that women are often discriminated against – domestic violence can be counted as a preexisting condition, for example.

Update: 12:48 PM EST

Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., with a large stack of papers — the Senate bill — in front of him, says that Republicans care about health care just like the Democrats, but that they couldn’t vote for the Democrats’ bill. One reason: fear of Washington defining “essential benefits” for health insurance. Cantor says that many Americans like the insurance that they have now, and that under the Democrats’ plan 8 to 9 million of them would lose the insurance they have now.

Obama responds that all industries — food, pharmaceuticals, etc. — are regulated to some degree, and says that Democrats and Republicans should talk about which regulations they can agree on.

Update: 12:40 PM EST

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks for the first time. She says, citing an AMA study out yesterday, that the insurance system right now is mostly monopolies around the country — not markets, and that many people in need of care are either dumped out or priced out.

Robert Laszewski: “John McCain just raised the process as a problem. The President responded that we can have a debate about substance or we can have a debate about process. I wish McCain would have pushed his point harder. My sense is that process is the real problem here–that the unilateral process the Democrats used, because they have the big majorities, is what really took health care reform off the rails.”

Ron Pollack: “What the Congressional Budget Office really says about premiums:

On November 30, 2009 in a letter to Senator Evan Bayh, the CBO outlined projected effects on premiums in 2016. For the vast majority of Americans, the CBO found premiums will actually be LOWER in 2016 under health reform than current law. Premiums in the large group market–which accounts for 70 percent of the insured–will be up to 3 percent lower under reform, and premiums for the small group market–13 percent of the insured–will be up to 2 percent lower. In the individual market, which accounts for only 17 percent of the insured, there will be a range of plans offered; some will cost more under reform, some less. Overall, the benefits offered in individual market plans will be better under reform than they are today and premiums will be slightly higher as a result–10 to 13 percent in 2016. However, the savings in lower deductibles, copays, and other out of pocket costs will more than offset these higher premiums. AND, most importantly, half of these people will receive premium subsidies that will reduce their premiums to well below what they would pay without reform.”

Update: 12:31 PM EST

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., changes the topic and criticizes the “process” of health care reform — how the Democrats developed their bills: “The bill was produced behind closed doors – with unsavory dealmaking.” He cites the special deals for Louisiana and Nebraska in the Senate bill, exemptions to Medicare cuts for Florida seniors, the White House’s $80 billion deal with PhRMA, and others. President Obama says “we can have a debate about process or about what we can do to get this done for the American people.” Sen. McCain says the American people care about how the bill was made.

Update: 12:25 PM EST

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., expands on the issue of pre-existing conditions, calling them a “trap” because once you have one you can’t change insurance policies.

Update: 12:19 PM EST

President Obama introduces the section on insurance reform. He says there are four areas that everyone could agree on: The notion that you can’t drop someone if they have purchased coverage, extending dependent coverage to a certain age – perhaps to 25 or 26, no annual or lifetime limits, on benefits, and — at least philosophically — on helping people with pre-existing conditions.

Republican Rep. Charles Boustany, a heart surgeon, responds. He says that they agree that insurance reform is necessary. The question is how. Boustany proposes addressing pre-existing conditions by expanding high-risk insurance pools. He also says Republicans agree on banning the practice of insurance companies dropping ill patients and abolishing lifetime caps.

Robert Laszewski: “During the first two hours the discussion has been encouraging. To be sure both sides have tended to be talking past each other with their longstanding talking points but what I find positive is that a number have expressed just how close they are on a number of issues. Max Baucus, who spent months leading bipartisan conversations in the Senate Finance committee, made that point.

Much has been made in recent weeks about how the Republicans don’t have a comprehensive plan. That is right. But what I think is missed is that during the Senate Finance discussions of last summer, as an example, a number of Republicans were willing to sign-on to a number of basic Democratic ideas before the talks broke down. The path to agreement might have more to do with a simple management principle–it is important to bring people along from the beginning of the process giving them the opportunity to have a sense of ownership in what is being developed.

A number of Republicans will not want to come close to the Democratic plans–John Kyl just made the point that there are major philosophical differences.

I will suggest we are at the impasse we are at because the leadership on both sides in the Congress really never wanted to work together–the Dems wanted to ram it through given their wide majorities and the Republican leadership was more interested in a health care “Waterloo” for Obama.

The real test of just how serious the President, the Democratic leadership, and enough Republicans might be lies ahead today.

The Democrats are in charge–they have the majorities and the White House. The President will face a choice later on today–try again to ram it through or use any progress today as an opportunity to try to circle back and capture those Republicans that are willing to work together.”

Update: 12:02 PM EST

Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., continues the line started by Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., over whether premiums will rise or fall according to the CBO. Kyl argues that the CBO report indicates premium will rise by 10 to 13 percent. He also argues that if the government mandates more coverage or imposes higher taxes on medical devices and pharmaceuticals, premiums will also go up.

Obama again responds to Alexander and Kyl by arguing that yes, premiums will rise for people who have thus far only been able to get high-deductible, minimal coverage insurance plans, but that under the exchange, the higher premiums will offer much more comprehensive coverage.

Thomas Mann: “The president used his opening remarks to try to entice the Republicans into a discussion that identified areas of agreement and disagreement, not a repetition of talking points. Senator Alexander made crystal clear that the Republicans will decline that invitation. They will stick to their script: we need to start over, go step-by-step to adopt reasonable incremental steps, renounce a parliamentary procedure that would stifle debate. As expected, there will be no real engagement. The Democrats will strive to make their bill look reasonable, moderate, inclusive of Republican ideas, and responsive to an intolerable status quo. The Republicans will be united in attacking that bill and the process by which it is moving to adoption. Political theater, with two parties talking past one another. It will be interesting to see if Obama is able to get the Republicans to say if they agree with any parts of the Democratic bill.”

Update: 11:50 AM EST

Democrat Chuck Schumer says that “we agree” with Tom Coburn that one-third of spending goes to waste and fraud. But, he says, “if you’re going to cut waste and fraud [in Medicare] you have to cut some stuff out … we’re not going to cut the good stuff.”

Update: 11:41 AM EST

Sen. McConnell notes that Democrats have so far used 52 minutes and Republicans 24 minutes of time, and asks to keep it fair. The president responds that they’re “just trying to go back and forth.”

Update: 11:30 AM EST

John Kline, R-Minn., makes the case that Republicans want to proceed step by step to address positions of cost. He suggests that small businesses, which he calls the engine that drives the economy, need to be able to band together in much the same way large businesses can in order to have advantages like lowering administrative costs. Those advantages, he says, will lower cost of premiums so small businesses can insure more people.

Ron Pollack: “Reaction to Sen. Alexander’s comments.

Senator Alexander’s six steps, taken in isolation, will make our health system worse for America’s families and businesses. Prohibiting pre-existing conditions without expanding health coverage, for example will result in more sick and older people enrolling in coverage while younger, healthier people drop coverage-thereby causing premiums to skyrocket. As another example, expanding high-deductible HSAs, by definition, will result in much higher out-of-pocket costs when people seek care-thereby making care less affordable. These piecemeal approaches simply don’t work in isolation-and, indeed, will make America’s health crisis worse.

Senator Alexander’s lamentation about the use of reconciliation to pass health reform is disingenuous. Reconciliation has been used 19 times to pass major bills. Of those 19 bills, 14 were signed by Republican presidents and only five were signed by Democratic Presidents; President Jimmy Carter (1), President Ronald Reagan (7), President George H.W. Bush (2), President Bill Clinton (4), and President George W. Bush (5).”

Update: 11:24 AM EST

While those at the health care summit bandy about poll numbers- it might be worthwhile to take a look at them for yourself.

This is the Kaiser Health Poll referenced by Senator Harry Reid.
This is the USA TODAY Poll referenced by Senator Mitch Mcconnell.

Update: 11:12 AM EST

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn on cost control: He says that one out of three medical dollars spent don’t help people get well. He says reform should focus on fixing fraud in Medicare and Medicaid, incentivizing preventive medicine, and ensuring doctors don’t have to order unnecessary tests because of worry over lawsuits.

Update: 11:03 AM EST

President Obama introduces the “controlling costs” section of the meeting. He and Lamar Alexander tussle over whether the president’s proposal will reduce health insurance premium costs for families. The president says that the CBO estimated that the bill would reduce premium costs by 14 to 20 percent. Alexander interjects and says it would raise costs instead. The president says that it would reduce costs for the same type of insurance, but people would have the option of choosing better insurance and paying 10 to 14 percent more than they pay for the “bad” coverage they have now.

Update: 10:54 AM EST

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid cites a poll that 58 percent of Americans will be “disappointed or angry” if lawmakers don’t do health reform this year. He defends the process of reconciliation to pass major legislation, saying that it has been used 21 times since 1981, many times by Republicans to pass their legislative initiatives.

Update: 10:43 AM EST

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks, opens and closes with references to Ted Kennedy, who called himself a “foot soldier” for health care at a meeting last March 6. She also emphasizes the economy and jobs, saying that the health care reform bill will create 400,000 jobs almost immediately.

Update: 10:32 AM EST

Lamar Alexander is the first Republican speaker. He says that Republicans want to take the current bill and put it on the shelf: “this is a car that can’t be recalled and fixed.” He also says that the reason the Republicans haven’t offered a comprehensive reform bill is that the country is too big and too complicated and too decentralized to reform the system with one big comprehensive bill. He lists six of the Republican ideas for reform, including allowing insurance to be bought across state lines, strong tort reform laws, and expanding health savings accounts.

Update: 10:20 AM EST

President Obama is giving his opening remarks. He opens with a reference to the economy, hitting the theme that reforming the health care system is critical to solving the long-term deficit problems. He also talks about his personal experiences with the health insurance, including his mother’s battle with insurance companies before her death from cancer.

Update: 9:50 AM EST

Judy Woodruff: “If nothing else, President Obama has managed to create an air of suspense.

All eyes are on Blair House this morning, the historic building across the street from the White House, and a stately setting for what could be an ugly unproductive showdown, but what the president hopes regardless will give lift-off to his most elusive domestic priority. Practically all observers have concluded the odds of reaching a deal on reforming a big chunk of the U.S. health care system are low. That’s because agreement would require one side or another — President Obama and the congressional Democratic leadership, or Republican legislators moving in lock-step — to back down from positions they have publicly staked out. Republicans insist the president scrap everything he’s proposed and start from scratch, with measures like capping awards to victims of medical malpractice. Mr. Obama and the Democrats have said they’d consider such a step, but maintain it doesn’t do nearly enough. The president has actually already scaled back his original reform wishes, but still wants most Americans covered by health insurance, in order to begin to limit uncontrollable cost increases that threaten the entire U.S. economy.

Knowing all this, it may be that the most the president can hope for today is that his speaking and persuasive skills will win more popular support for his approach. That support could translate into political courage for wavering congressional Democrats, whose votes the White House must have if they conclude they have no choice but to try to enact reform with their own party alone.”

Thomas Mann: “The public debate on health reform has been painfully misleading and unhelpful. I’ll be looking to see if the summit provides any departures from the highly stylized encounters that have dominated media coverage of health reform and left most members of the public with little knowledge of what is in the bill that the president and congressional Democrats are proposing and what Republicans would offer as an alternative. Will President Obama and his Democratic colleagues present a clear, honest and understandable explanation of their objectives, proposals and costs? Will Republicans move beyond their Frank Luntz-crafted talking points and seriously and candidly discuss what parts of the Democratic bill they could accept and what parts they would insist on changing? Elections properly provide the winner the opportunity to set the agenda on issues central to the campaign. After eight years, the ball is now in the Democrats’ court. The loser can just say no, as they have over the past year of work in Congress on health reform, or they can engage. The political logic suggests Republicans will continue to play to kill the bill, not to improve it. And the Democrats will perforce move forward on their own. Will I be surprised? Will the public learn something that is both useful and true?”

Ron Pollack: “There is a huge contrast between the ways the president and congressional Republican leaders have approached today’s summit.

The president has offered a detailed, meaningful proposal that moderates skyrocketing health care costs, remedies insurance company abuses, extends coverage to working families, and reduces the federal deficit. The Republican leaders have basically said ‘no.’

Some Republicans have signaled that they may offer several piecemeal ideas as an alternative to meaningful reform. Such piecemeal ideas, however, would not only give false hope to Americans needing real reform, but they may also do much more harm than good.

For example, banning insurance company pre-existing condition exclusions without expanding health coverage will result in skyrocketing premiums as sicker and older people secure coverage as younger healthier people abandon such coverage.

Meaningful reform is essential for America’s families and businesses, and the cost of doing nothing is far too high. The failure to enact meaningful reform will result in too many and growing denials of needed care — with many people paying the ultimate price of premature, avoidable death.

The Summit needs to catalyze prompt action to achieve meaningful reform.”

Robert Laszewski: “This was never really going to be about a way to find a bipartisan way toward health care reform. In this election year the Republicans have no reason to take this President and his party off the political hook they are dangling from.
The White House and the Democratic leadership have concluded that at this point they have more to lose if they are unable to complete a bill. But moderate Democrats are reluctant to sign-on with the polls as bad as they are.
This is really a last ditch attempt by the President to build momentum for passing a big Democratic health care bill — to turn the polls back toward the Democrats and give the moderates political cover to sign on.
For the Republicans to win, they only need a draw — status quo public opinion ends the 2010 health care debate. The President and the Democratic leadership need a big win today — they need to turn the tide of opinion back their way in a big way in order to pass their bill this year.
The stakes couldn’t be higher.”

9:30am EST

Nearly 40 lawmakers will join President Obama, Vice President Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius around a square conference table at the Blair House, across the street from the White House, for the six-hour forum. You can watch it live from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or follow along with us here.

Rundown blog contributors include:

Judy Woodruff, NewsHour senior correspondent

Thomas Mann, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a health care advocacy organization that supports universal health care.

Robert Laszewski, health policy consultant and blogger, and former insurance executive.*

Here’s the full list of attendees at the president’s summit:

President Barack Obama
Vice President Joe Biden
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Senators

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.;
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.;
Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.;
John Barrasso, R-Wyo.;
Max Baucus, D-Mont.;
Tom Coburn, R-Okla.;
Kent Conrad, D-N.D.;
Richard Durbin, D-Ill.;
Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.;
Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.;
Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa;
Tom Harkin, D-Iowa;
Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.;
John McCain, R-Ariz.;
Patty Murray, D-Wash.;
Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.;
Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

House Members

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.;
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.;
Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio;
Rob Andrews, D-N.J.;
Joe Barton, R-Texas;
Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.;
Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.;
Charles Boustany, R-La.;
Dave Camp, R-Mich.;
Eric Cantor, R-Va.;
James Clyburn, D-S.C.;
Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.;
John Dingell, D-Mich.;
John Kline, R-Minn.;
George Miller, D-Calif.;
Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.;
Peter Roskam, R-Ill.;
Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.;
Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.;
Henry Waxman, D-Calif.