Republicans and Universal Coverage

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT), speaking at the National Journal Group's health policy breakfast this morning at the Columbus Club in Union Station:

Republicans are coming to the understanding that their opposition to universal coverage is misplaced...Let's understand that when we say we cover everybody...that is not a step toward a single-payer government-run system.

Bennett said that this morning in a panel discussion with SEIU President Andy Stern, America's Health Insurance Plans President and CEO Karen Ignani, and Liz Fowler, senior counsel to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) (who has put forth a major health reform proposal in the Senate). The idea of expanding access is certainly mainstream in the GOP--Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans, in fact, sent a letter to President Obama yesterday that stressed their desire to make that happen--but it was interesting to hear Bennett addressed Republican's relationship with "universal coverage," which we heard so frequently in the Democratic primary last year.

Bennett, as a partner on health legislation with Oregon's Ron Wyden (D), could be seen as a moderate on the issue, and, to be sure, he stressed that the GOP still stands firmly opposed to "universal coverage" when it is used to describe a sizeable expansion of government control, but his comment today seemed to indicate, if nothing else, a development in the language of Washington's debate over health reform.