Obama calls healthcare IT 'low hanging fruit' on health reform

By Diana Manos
11:26 AM

President Barack Obama called healthcare IT the "low hanging fruit" on healthcare reform and an area in which Republicans and Democrats could find common ground.

His comments came during Thursday's healthcare reform summit at  the White House, which brought together a bipartisan mix of Congressional leaders and other stakeholders to launch the president's healthcare reform plans.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee – and someone expected to play a key role in healthcare reform legislation – endorsed healthcare IT as a way to cut costs and align provider incentives.

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"Healthcare reform is a no-brainer," he said. "The American public wants it."

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) chairman of the influential House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said there would be trade-offs in working out healthcare reform, but "doing nothing is not an alternative."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said a bipartisan effort would be forthcoming, but also warned that any plan that would be detrimental to the current private healthcare market would be shunned by Republicans.

Last December, Obama invoked the American public's input on healthcare reform through a series of community meetings. At the summit, he released a report containing comments from the more than 9,000 people who participated in neighborhood meetings nationwide.

It's likely Obama will use this report to plead his case for a bipartisan agreement on healthcare reform, though he doesn't necessarily need to gain much Republican support. He was able to pass the stimulus package with only three Republican votes.

In an open discussion at the summit, Obama said he welcomed ideas from all factions, but warned against clinging to old principles that may be unsubstantiated.

The stimulus package is a down payment on healthcare reform, according to the president, and includes more than $19 billion to advance healthcare IT.

The single hardest task in politics is to get lawmakers to agree on spending money up front for a savings down the road, Obama said. Healthcare IT won't show rewards for several years, he said, but it's needed as a cornerstone to overhaul an inefficient healthcare system that is strangling the economy.

Obama has pledged to pass healthcare reform legislation this year and indicated Congressional committees would begin the process.

"There has been some talk that maybe we're  taking on too much," he said in closing remarks at the White House summit. "Let's be clear: When times were good, we didn't get it done. "

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), a long-time health reform advocate who is under treatment for a brain tumor, made a surprise appearance at the summit.

"This time we will not fail," he said.




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