The Tennessean: Health summit has a Tennessee flavor

Posted on February 25, 2010

WASHINGTON — Four Tennesseans will play important roles in today's White House health-care summit.

Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville, an expert on health-care policy, will be joined at the event by Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood and Sen. Lamar Alexander, a member of the GOP leadership, and Tennessee native Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform.

"There's a lot of Tennessee influence," Cooper said. "I hope Tennessee civility will carry over to the others."

Cooper, whose views on health-care reform have sometimes angered liberal groups, said his biggest concern is its impact on the deficit. Cooper has taught health policy at Vanderbilt University for more than a decade.

Some experts believe $700 billion a year is wasted in government health-care programs, Cooper said, and he would like to see reform legislation more aggressively attack that waste.

Cooper said he remains hopeful that health-care reform can be passed but added, "I'd say the odds are against us."

Alexander, who is the No. 3-ranking GOP senator, said the summit provides Republicans with a good opportunity to outline the incremental approach to reform that they favor.

"We don't do comprehensive," Alexander said, reiterating his criticism of Democratic reform proposals. "The American people thoroughly reject that.

"The place to start is to start over," Alexander said.

Blackburn rejected the proposal released by President Barack Obama this week as "simply a summary of the health-care bills the American people rejected in August and again in December."

She again raised Tennessee's experience with TennCare, the state's Medicaid program, as a cautionary tale for the federal reform effort. "We have learned in Tennessee that government-run health-care systems experience cost explosions," she said.

DeParle, who served as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services from 1987 to 1989, has played a mostly behind-the-scenes role in trying to negotiate reform legislation with Congress.