WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The purpose of the Obama administration’s upcoming summit on healthcare is to find solutions to issues like soaring insurance premiums, not score political points against the Republicans, the White House insisted on Tuesday.
With his sweeping healthcare overhaul effort floundering in the face of united Republican opposition and public skepticism, Obama has invited Republican leaders to the meeting on February 25, which will be nationally televised.
He promised to post his own proposal for an overhaul online before the event and asked Republicans to do the same.
“Everybody that’s in Washington that works in the executive branch and the legislative branch was sent here as part of representative democracy to solve problems,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at Tuesday’s daily media briefing. “That’s what this is intended to do.”
“The president will lay out his ideas, and I would expect that Republicans will, and others will, lay out their solutions,” he said.
The Obama administration on Friday invited 12 Democratic members of Congress and nine Republicans to the conference on revamping the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system, an issue central to the Democratic president’s domestic agenda.
Republicans have said they will attend, but they are wary that the White House is trying to set a political trap for them, preparing to blame Republicans if the healthcare effort falters.
They have demanded that healthcare bills reached by Democrats in the House of Representatives and Senate be scrapped, something the administration is not willing to do after months of debate and difficult compromise.
Gibbs did not give a date for the release of the White House plan, saying only that it would be far enough before the meeting to allow it to be reviewed.
“I don’t have the exact day yet. But it will be in — in time for — for you and for others around the country to evaluate a plan,” he said.
He said the backdrop of the meeting will be rising insurance rates. The White House has pointed to health insurance premium increases of up to 39 percent for some California customers of WellPoint Inc.’s Anthem Blue Cross plans as evidence for passing a major healthcare reform.
WellPoint has said the higher prices reflect greater medical costs and are in line with competitors. The company, strung by the criticism, said over the weekend it would postpone the rate increase by two months.
With millions of Americans lacking health insurance, polls show a high level of frustration as the public watches the abortive reform process at a time of economic crisis and high unemployment that has eroded support for Obama.
Obama’s Democrats are under pressure to produce results before elections in November in which the entire House and more than a third of seats in the Senate will be up for grabs.
Editing by Eric Walsh