Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Universal health coverage in spotlight at L.A. forum - Los Angeles Times

By Lisa Girion and Noam Levey

A wide array of forum participants, including hospital and insurance company executives and the mother of a teenager who died from a preventable hospital-acquired infection, gave voice to the growing desire for change. But the presentation was light on details.

Universal coverage -- health insurance for all Americans -- was widely touted, but there was no discussion of how to achieve that goal.

The forum, the fifth in a series the White House organized around the country over the last month, comes as senior Democrats on Capitol Hill move ahead on drafting legislation to be introduced later this spring to overhaul the nation's healthcare system.

The president and his congressional allies have pledged that the bill will expand coverage to some 46 million uninsured people, rein in costs and improve the quality of care.

The White House billed the five forums as a way to get public input. But the invitation-only event in Los Angeles was clearly programmed to showcase the broad goals Obama has said he wants included in the legislation, including an emphasis on prevention, as well as secure and affordable coverage for everyone, regardless of age or preexisting conditions.

Outside the forum, the California Nurses Assn., Physicians for a National Health Program and other groups drew hundreds to a rally in support of the so-called single-payer option, which would put government in charge of organizing and purchasing healthcare and leave the private insurance market in tatters.

Deborah Burger, co-president of the California-based nurses union, a Schwarzenegger foe, said she feared that the single-payer approach would not be considered in Washington because of heavy lobbying by the insurance industry. She said the forum, where no single-payer proponent spoke, was just more "window dressing."

With the forums concluded, the action now shifts to Washington, where members of Congress also are working toward universal coverage through legislation that would modify the current private insurance market rather than replace it.

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