July 23, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
Roll Call

‘80 Percent’ Agreement on Health Is Elusive

Top Democrats and Republicans have said there is “80 percent” agreement on how to reform health care, with the major disputes centering on the remaining 20 percent, but that rhetoric appears to be more public relations than reality.

Republicans said the 80 percent agreement referred to the set of goals that Democrats have on health care reform, rather than any formal legislation or specifics currently under consideration in either chamber. Democrats countered that Republicans are floating the 80 percent figure simply as a way to look like they are not being obstructionists.

President Barack Obama suggested during his address to Congress earlier this month that there was already 80 percent agreement on how to reform health care; Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), who delivered the Republican response, later agreed in an MSNBC interview.

And in a joint town hall meeting in Richmond, Va., on Monday, when Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) suggested there was 80 percent agreement, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) did not dispute the number.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that he wants to sit down with Cantor and Boustany to find out what exactly they are talking about, especially given that they haven’t presented a bill of their own.

“I want to find out what that 80 percent is,” Hoyer told reporters at his weekly press briefing. “Whatever it is, we need to find out what it is and see if we can reach agreement.”

Rick Curtsinger, a spokesman for Boustany, pointed to the list of goals — such as providing insurance for people with pre-existing conditions — outlined in the Congressman’s rebuttal to Obama’s address to Congress, but said there were more areas where Boustany believed the two sides could come together.

“Rep. Boustany believes there are more areas of common ground, but he was constrained by time during his address,” he said. “Those are simply several areas that both he and the president touched upon.”

Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring pointed to three areas where bipartisan agreement can be reached, including portability, pre-existing conditions and medical malpractice reform.

“Mr. Cantor has made very clear that like a majority of the House, he does not support H.R. 3200,” Dayspring said. “He’s also made very clear that when it comes to strengthening health care in America, he believes it’s far more productive to focus on areas where Republicans and Democrats may be able to agree, rather than on divisive issues like the public option — in whatever form — as the president and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi have chosen to do.”

But even within areas where Republicans say there is room for agreement, divisions on implementation remain.

Scott complained during the town hall meeting that it was impossible to separate the controversial 20 percent of the bill that Republicans oppose from the parts that had bipartisan support.

“Unless you have universal coverage, the pre-existing-condition problem cannot be solved,” Scott said. “If people can wait to buy insurance until they get sick, the only people that will buy insurance are those that are sick, and the average cost will go up.”

Cantor told reporters after the meeting he disagreed with Scott, and the challenges presented by the 20 percent where they disagree could be addressed.

“I do think you can fix some of the 20 percent, and we ought to take first things first and try and address that,” Cantor said.

Scott told Roll Call on Tuesday the point he was trying to make wasn’t so much that there are areas where they agree, but that they can’t duck the tough issues.

Hoyer said he has had a number of conversations about health care reform with Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the head of the GOP health care task force and former Minority Whip, but has yet to receive a copy of a Republican alternative.

Blunt’s spokeswoman, Burson Snyder, also said there is common ground with Democrats, although she didn’t go into specifics.

“It’s the portion of the Democrats’ plan committed to a government takeover of health care that Mr. Blunt objects to,” she said.

Other ideas that Republicans have put forward in various bills, but not in a Republican leadership bill, include tax breaks for individuals to buy insurance, small-business pooling across state lines, and incentives for prevention and wellness programs.

But a senior House Democratic leadership aide ripped the Republicans’ use of the 80 percent figure as a disingenuous attempt to portray themselves as something other than the “party of no.”

“They’ve spent the last three months basically criticizing every aspect of the bill,” the aide said. “It can only be a PR stunt. ... They’re trying to send a message to their base that we should scrap this bill and another message to independents and moderates and others saying look, you know, we do support some ideas of reform.”

The aide added, “They’re trying to have it both ways, and I think they are tripping all over themselves.”

Republicans have kept their own plan under wraps for months, saying Tuesday that they are still waiting to receive analyses from the Congressional Budget Office.

The Republican ideas, to the extent that they have detailed them, go in a far different direction than Democrats, even if there is some agreement on the goals. Both parties acknowledge that people with pre-existing conditions should be given affordable insurance. But Democrats would prohibit insurance companies from excluding people who are sick, while Republicans would send them into beefed-up high-risk insurance pools run by states.

Hoyer, for his part, didn’t show much willingness to compromise with Republicans, given that the public insurance option is a deal-breaker for the GOP.

Hoyer said Democrats are “not talking about dropping the public option.”

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