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Obama Places Health Care Expansion, Reform at Core of Budget Proposal

President Obama's $3.5 trillion budget plan sets aside billions of dollars to overhaul the U.S. health care system and provide coverage to more Americans. Susan Dentzer of Health Affairs and NPR's Julie Rovner examine the plan's specifics and its potential impact.

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    And take three on the budget, more about the president's plans for health care. Ray Suarez has the story for our Health Unit, a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


    The budget plan calls for a new reserve fund for expanding health care coverage totaling more than $600 billion over 10 years. To walk us through the proposal and how it might be paid for, we turn to two women who've covered the health care wars over the years.

    Susan Dentzer is a familiar face to our viewers. She's now editor in chief of the journal Health Affairs and an occasional health analyst for the NewsHour. And Julie Rovner has chronicled this subject for National Public Radio.

    And, Julie, this reserve fund, it's a mixture of saving and new spending. First, where does the president want to expand spending, expand programs? What's the new money for?

  • JULIE ROVNER, National Public Radio:

    Well, the new money is really to start to cover the 46 million Americans who don't have health coverage now. And I think the tension has really been over the last couple of years, do you start by cutting costs or bending the curve, as Peter Orszag likes to say, what we were just talking about in the last segment, about health care costs going up so much faster than inflation, which is really the long-term budget problem?

    Or do you start by getting these people who don't have health insurance coverage? And, obviously, the two things are related. The faster health care costs go up, the more people don't have coverage.

    But people who don't have coverage do get health care. They go to the emergency room. They wait until they get very sick because they get care. So there's a concern that, if you don't get those people covered or into the pool, they are going to have trouble reducing health care costs, so there's a lot of concern about doing that at the same time.

    But as you bring those people in, it's going to cost money upfront before you start to realize those savings that people have been talking about from changing the way that health care is delivered. Thus, you need money upfront. That's the idea of this reserve fund.