NU Online News Service, May 5, 2:48 p.m.EDT

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WASHINGTON–Current efforts for health care reform couldbe derailed by proposals calling for a "public plan" coverageoption and a federal health board, a conservative think tankrepresentative told a Senate panel today.

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Stuart Butler, a vice president of the Heritage Foundation, madehis comments at a roundtable convened by the Senate FinanceCommittee on how health care should be delivered in a revampedhealth care system.

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The proposals for a government health care plan in competitionwith private carriers and a federal health board to set treatmentpolicy "are like nuclear land mines on the road to broadagreement," he said. "They could be lethal to the prospects forconsensus and even to the passage of any significantlegislation."

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The roundtable is the second held by the committee. Sen. MaxBaucus, D-Mont., chairman of the committee, said the thirdroundtable, on financing health care reform, would be held nextweek, followed by a so-called mock "markup" of health care reformlegislation. Markup is the process by which a committee debates,amends and rewrites proposed legislation.

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Actual drafting of legislation reforming the current health caresystem will be held by the committee in June, he said.

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That will be followed by discussions with the Senate Health,Education, Labor and Pension Committee, which is drafting its ownbill on consensus legislation that will be presented to the fullSenate for action before the August recess, Sen. Baucus said.

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In other comments at today's hearing, Karen Ignagni, presidentof America's Health Insurance Plans, argued that a new public plan"is not necessary to achieve successful health care reform."

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She said it is important for policymakers to "consider theunintended consequences that could result from establishing apublic plan to compete against existing private insurance plans"under a reformed health care system."

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"To illustrate our concerns about how we move toward anintegrated, high-quality health care delivery system under a publicplan option, the committee should consider the success of theprivate market in offering innovative care management programs andthe difficulty associated with achieving similar results in a newgovernment plan," she said.

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The BlueCross BlueShield Association submitted comments advisingthat insurers should partner with the government to ensure thateveryone has coverage under a new health care system throughseveral means.

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Government should do this by expanding existing governmentprograms where appropriate and by assuring that everyone ineligiblefor existing government programs can afford private coverage bybuilding on the employer-based system with support for individualswho must have coverage but may have difficulty affording it, saidBlueCross.

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The association added that government should participate byassuring everyone can purchase health coverage regardless of healthstatus with no variation in premiums based on health and bysimplifying the shopping for and purchase of insurance throughstate-run online programs for comparing and purchasingcoverage.

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In arguing against a public plan, Mr. Butler of the HeritageFoundation said "the simple fact is that if the government issponsoring a competition within an exchange, and also is the ownerof one of the plans, there can be little doubt that the rules andregulations promulgated by Washington will favor thegovernment-sponsored plan."

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"A 'competing' public plan as a choice will inevitably become apublic plan for all, and unacceptable," he said.

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He also said creating a federal health board could undo anyconsensus. "It's one thing to have a body to spur and distributecost-effectiveness research," he said. "It's quite another to havea board, as others have urged, that is not really answerable toanyone and starts to determine how medical care can beprovided."

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