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Single Payer System Subject Of Debate At Health Care Roundtable

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The Senate Finance Committee held its third and final Health Care Roundtable Discussion Tuesday, focusing on how to finance comprehensive health care reform. The roundtable concluded the series aimed at helping the committee offer health care reform legislation by June.

Experts and lawmakers discussed the cost of the proposals that they have considered in recent weeks, with committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont noting that they "are not cheap."

However, the cost of inaction is also high, he added, noting that Americans spend $4.5 million on health care every minute of every day, leading to $2.5 trillion a year - or $33 trillion over the next 10 years.

Monday, President Barack Obama announced that he had reached an agreement with various organizations to cut health care spending by 1.5 percent each year for the next 10 years, saving over $2 trillion.

Baucus noted that, along the lines of the reform promoted by President Obama, the first place to cut spending is within the health care industry itself.

In addition, experts discussed the tax treatment of health care.

"We should look at ways to modify the current tax exclusion so that it provides the right incentives," Baucus said. "And we should look at ways to make it fairer and more equitable for everyone."

Protestors once again marked the opening of the hearing, with many in favor of a single-payer system.

"This is a Sham - all of you are special interest groups up there?" one yelled before police escorted them from the meeting room.

"Why aren't single payer activists at the table?" another asked, before being similarly removed from the room.

The single-payer system provides only one source of money for paying health care providers, and can be on a national scope, like Canada, or smaller like statewide or community-based.

The payer may be a governmental unit or other entity such as an insurance company. Advocates say that single payer supports the patient by reducing costs and simplifying administrative work.

Gerald Shea, Assistant to the President for Governmental affairs of the AFL-CIO, added his support for the single-payer system.

"If you're going to do it the right way, I think that single-payer is the way to go," Shea said.

However, Baucus called the proposal unrealistic.

"Some want to go to single payer," Baucus said. "I don't think that's going to work in this country."

Rather, he supported other tax benefits for health care.

"Among these are tax-preferred health accounts and the itemized deduction for health expenses," Baucus said. "We should try to make sure that those benefits are structured fairly and efficiently."

Ranking member, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, noted that the hardest part of health care reform is figuring out how to pay for it. However, he noted that no matter what the reform, President Obama will be a "key player" in crafting the new health care system.

Last week, lawmakers heard from a panel of experts on the best ways to overhaul the individual health care system. Financing was not discussed, although all participants agreed that an increase in cost would be needed.

Approximately 87 million people — one in three Americans — went without health insurance for some period during 2007 and 2008.

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