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The U.S. Senate Finance Committee has approved a sweeping health care reform bill aimed at lowering insurance costs and expanding coverage to more Americans. In the committee's vote, Senator Olympia Snow was the first Republican to vote in support of health care reform. But lawmakers are not the only ones involved in the health care debate. Lobbyists have been paying special attention to the issue. Public policy experts say groups representing the insurance, hospital and pharmaceutical industries are powerful in shaping health care legislation. Groups representing consumers and labor unions are also trying to influence the outcome.
In Washington, a win for President Obama as a health care bill was passed in the Senate Finance Committee...taking him one step closer to reforming health care in America. The latest bill will require most Americans to buy health insurance or face a penalty. Insurance Companies will no longer be able to turn down coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions.
But the measure still faces stiff opposition. A new report by a health insurance industry group says the overhaul will drive up costs on families' annual premiums by as much as $4000 over the next decade.
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Karen Ignagni is president of the group, America's Health Insurance Plans. She says the bill passed in the Senate committee does not include enough penalties to force uninsured Americans to buy coverage.
"If you don't have everybody in the pool, you have a situation where people are encouraged to purchase only when they need it," Ignagni said.
Seven months ago, the insurance industry group pledged to support President Obama's plan.
"You have our commitment to play, to contribute, and to help pass health care reform this year," she said.
Georgetown University professor Judy Feder says lobbyists often change their views as bills in Congress evolve.
"Healthcare interest groups, like the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the hospital [industry,] the physicians have a tremendous stake in any changes we make in our health care system and in the current system," Feder said, "and they are always very watchful about whether those changes are in their interest or in directions they believe will harm them."
Feder says special interests played a critical role in defeating health care reform when President Bill Clinton was in the White House. In the early 90s, an insurance industry group tried tried to scare Americans away from health care reform in one commercial.
"A lot of that had to do with the aggressive opposition of those interests along with some business interest, particularly small business who really attacked the plan," Feder noted.
More than a decade later, the voices in support of reform are louder. The pharmaceutical industry as well as the the largest association of doctors are standing with President Obama, making it a more even fight.
Public policy experts say putting pressure on lawmakers and creating fear among American citizens are tools lobbyists use to influence the final outcome on policies being debated in Congress.
And fear is being used by both sides of the issue.
"They frighten people because the American public is very uncertain about the consequences of a big reform," Ignagni said.
There is still a long way to go to health care reform. The House and Senate will have to merge their bills. As to which groups get their way in this debate, that could depend on how public opinion evolves and whether lawmakers feel they're better off voting for or against reform.