WASHINGTON — President Obama tried Tuesday to sell his health care plan to older Americans, as members of Congress said they were deluged with calls from constituents worried that their Medicare benefits might be cut to help finance coverage for the uninsured.
The outpouring of concern over Medicare came as House Democratic leaders tried to assuage the concerns of fiscally conservative House Democrats who have held up action on health care legislation while they press for changes to reduce the cost of the bill, estimated at $1 trillion over 10 years.
The White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, met Tuesday with the conservative Democrats in the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi to try to broker a deal that would allow the House Energy and Commerce Committee to approve the legislation this week, before the House is scheduled to begin a monthlong break.
After six hours of intense negotiations, the talks broke up at 9:15 p.m. with no announcement of a deal or an agreement.
A committee vote could give the White House and Congressional Democrats tangible evidence of progress on Mr. Obama’s top domestic priority.
On the other side of the Capitol, a half-dozen members of the Senate Finance Committee reported further progress toward a possible bipartisan compromise, which includes creation of a new federal panel to hold down Medicare costs, particularly payments to hospitals and other health care providers.
But some liberal Democrats, like Senators John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, expressed reservations about concessions being made by Democrats to keep a few Republicans on board.
Mr. Rockefeller said he was unhappy that the legislation would end the Children’s Health Insurance Program and could reduce the scope of benefits for 11 million children in the program.
Asked if he would support the bill, Mr. Rockefeller shot back a somber, stony look. “Can’t you see the joy on my face?” he asked.
Speaking at a town-hall-style meeting organized by AARP, Mr. Obama said his proposals would slow the growth of health spending and avoid the need for future cuts in Medicare, the insurance program for 45 million people who are 65 and older or disabled.
Democrats in Congress plan to finance about half the cost of the legislation by squeezing savings from Medicare. The White House says benefits will not be cut and beneficiaries will not be hurt.
“Nobody is talking about cutting Medicare benefits,” Mr. Obama said.
But Representative G. K. Butterfield, Democrat of North Carolina, said he heard many expressions of concern from constituents when he answered telephone calls to his office on Tuesday.
“The longer we wait to vote,” Mr. Butterfield said, “the more opportunity our opponents have to put out false messages. Seniors fear they will lose Medicare. They worry they will have to discuss plans for end-of-life care every five years.”
A provision of the House bill would provide Medicare coverage for the work of doctors who advise patients on life-sustaining treatment and “end-of-life services,” including hospice care.
Conservative groups have seized on this provision as evidence that the bill could encourage the rationing of health care. The Family Research Council, for example, said the bill would “limit end-of-life care.”
The House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, said, “This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia.”
Representative Robert E. Andrews, Democrat of New Jersey, said, “I have met seniors who think their Medicare will be taken away, which is false.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol struggled Tuesday to come up with a bill that would cover the uninsured and control costs.
In the House, the fiscally conservative Democrats — members of the Blue Dog Coalition — said they were not satisfied with the offers made Monday by the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California. They drafted a counteroffer.
House Democrats said their bill included provisions that would help older Americans. For example, they said, the bill would gradually close a gap in Medicare coverage of prescription drugs known as a doughnut hole. It would eliminate co-payments and deductibles for most preventive services in Medicare and make it easier for low-income people to get help with the cost of their Medicare premiums.
The House bill would cut more than $160 billion over 10 years from the projected growth of Medicare payments to insurance companies that manage care for more than 10 million of the 45 million Medicare beneficiaries.
“We’ll eliminate billions in unwarranted subsidies to insurance companies in the Medicare Advantage program — giveaways that boost insurance company profits but don’t make you any healthier,” Mr. Obama told AARP members.
But Robert E. Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, said that if Congress made those cuts, “beneficiaries would face higher premiums and reductions in benefits, and in some parts of the country, they might lose access to their Medicare Advantage plans.” When Congress cut Medicare payments in the past, he said, insurers withdrew from some counties.
ETA: Oh, and dove-tailing into this is the new rightwing conspiracy theory that Obama's health care plan WILL KILL OLD PEOPLE!
GOP sees death in health care
July 28: Republicans are trying to rally opposition to President Obama’s health care plan by suggesting it will literally kill people. One GOP legislator said the reform plan is a way to advance assisted suicide. Can scare tactics like this prevent Congress from voting on the health care bill? Rachel Maddow is joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT.