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Health care lobbyists jockey for position

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KAI RYSSDAL: Congress has about 15 working days left before it heads out of town for summer vacation. Not a whole lot of time to overhaul an industry that’s about 20 percent of the entire economy. The later the date gets the higher the political stakes get. Hence the appearance in the Oval Office by the president this afternoon.

Pres. Barack Obama: I’ve said that health insurance reform cannot add to our deficit over the next decade. And I mean it. Let me repeat, health insurance reform cannot add to our deficit over the next decade and I mean it.

No small promise, considering a health care overhaul could cost anywhere between one and one and a half trillion dollars over the next ten years. But here’s the dirty little secret: For all the political talk about people and their doctors, this whole health care debate? It’s not really about you.

Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports.

Steve Henn: Remember Harry and Louise? That TV couple helped kill the Clinton’s healthcare reform bill in the 90s. Well, they’re back — but this time there’s a twist.

Harry: Looks like we may finally get healthcare reform.
Louise: It’s about time.

Harry and Louise are now for overhauling the healthcare system. And their ads are being paid for in part by big drug companies. But wasn’t overhauling healthcare was supposed to be a bitter pill? Well, it turns out drug companies like this bill.

John Sheils: It’s quite and expansion in coverage.

John Sheils is health care analyst at the Lewin Group.

Sheils: That means a big increase in the number of people who will have access to prescription drug.

And that’s big money. And the pharmaceutical industry’s not giving much up. Importing drugs from Canada is off the table. And the Senate’s giving new biotech drugs 12 years of freedom from generic competition.

Lobbyists for doctors and hospitals are also elbowing for concessions and getting them. Doctor’s fees won’t be subject to automatic price caps. Right now, the only industry that’s really unhappy is insurers.

Stuart Butler: Insurance industry faces potential extinction, to be honest.

Stuart Bulter at the Heritage foundation says the publicly run insurance plan that’s in the House Bill could force most private insurers out of business. But for now at least, nothing is final. Instead, the healthcare overhaul is a lobbying free for all.

But wait.

Henn: I think we left out patients.
Sheils: Oh, they always get left out.

In Washington I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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