- The Washington Times - Monday, February 22, 2010

President Obama tossed the GOP a few sweeteners in the new health care proposal released by the White House Monday, scaling back the so-called “Cornhusker kickback” and incorporating Republican proposals to combat health fraud ahead of this week’s televised summit with congressional leaders.

Saying it “doesn’t make sense” to start from scratch, the administration ignored calls from the Republican minority to scrap the existing Democratic health care bills, instead offering up a consolidated version of the House and Senate legislation. At the same time, advisers insisted Mr. Obama is heading into Thursday’s bipartisan summit with an “open mind.”

After letting Capitol Hill take the lead for the past year, this is Mr. Obama’s first stab at offering his own comprehensive bill, and the moves he made are designed to answer some of the harshest criticisms of the House and Senate bills.

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Among the Republican ideas included in Mr. Obama’s bill is a proposal from the conservative House Republican Study Committee for a centralized database where government officials document Medicare and Medicaid abuses, and a provision from a centrist House Republican bill that would require background checks for health providers who provide services under Medicare. It also adds stronger sanctions such as jail time for those who purchase, sell or distribute Medicare-beneficiary information numbers.

In addition, Mr. Obama’s version removes one of the most controversial portions of the Senate health-care bill, Nebraska’s special Medicaid arrangement, which Republicans derided as the “Cornhusker kickback.”

The Senate bill expanded eligibility for Medicaid so that more people would qualify. But Medicaid is a shared state and federal responsibility, which means that states would eventually have to pay more to cover the new enrollees. Moderate Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat and a last holdout in the Senate vote last last year, negotiated a deal under which his state’s increased payments would be funded by the federal government in perpetuity.

But while the White House removed the Nebraska provision, it left in other special exemptions.

For example, Mr. Obama’s bill kept the $300 million in Medicaid funds that Sen. Mary Landrieu secured for Louisiana and left untouched the special treatment that Sen. Bill Nelson negotiated for Medicare Advantage customers in Florida.

“A few empty nods to the Republican goal of clamping down on waste, fraud and abuse doesnt change the fact that at its core this plan takes power away from patients and gives it to bureaucrats in Washington,” said Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus in the House.

The administration bill, which it posted on the White House Web site Monday morning, is designed to set the stage for a highly anticipated televised summit on Thursday between Democratic and Republican leaders. Mr. Obama called the meeting after his marquee legislative priority has been stalled in Congress for weeks.

Both parties have blamed each other for the lack of bipartisanship on health care, but Democrats’ loss of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate has forced them to make good on their word. While Republicans have said true bipartisanship requires writing bills together, Mr. Obama in recent weeks has sought to define the term as meaning the minority party must accept some things it doesn’t like.

“Bipartisanship can’t be that I agree to all of the things that they believe in or want and they agree to none of the things I believe in or want, and that’s the price of bipartisanship, right? But that’s sometimes the way it gets presented,” Mr. Obama told reporters at the White House a few weeks ago. “I’m willing to move off some of the preferences of my party in order to meet them halfway, but there’s got to be some give from their side as well.”

Republicans have remained leery about Thursday’s summit, saying the White House’s refusal to start the legislative process over doesn’t portend well for the gathering.

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