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Obama Backs Health Care Reform
Date:1/20/2009

uld be a top priority, after fighting terrorism (48 percent).

Experts in health care policy are also advocating systemic change. According to a recent survey of "health care opinion leaders," conducted by the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund, 92 percent of experts favor or strongly favor allowing Americans who can't get insurance through employer plans or Medicaid/SCHIP to purchase insurance through a national health insurance exchange, as Obama has suggested.

"There really is an historic wind of opportunity for health reform," Kaiser Family Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Drew Altman said at a press briefing on the Kaiser/Harvard survey results. In part, that opportunity is brought about by the public's concerns about paying for health care and health insurance amid a deep recession, he noted.

However, the survey also revealed wide divisions in public opinion, with roughly half (49 percent) saying they are not willing to pay more to expand access to health insurance and 47 percent saying they are. Such underlying tensions in public opinion could be exploited, "especially if there is a protracted debate," Altman conceded.

Under Obama's plan, medium and large employers that don't offer employee health benefits would pay a tax to help fund coverage -- a so-called "play-or-pay" mandate. He also pledged to expand eligibility under Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). And he would create a plan much like the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program to help individuals who don't have job-based coverage or don't quality for other public programs.

The House of Representatives, acting on one leg of that plan last week, voted to reauthorize and expand SCHIP. The measure would add 4 million children to the federal-state program over the next four and a half years. The Senate Finance committee approved a similar measure, which heads to the full Senate.

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