WASHINGTON -- As the nation's political leaders convened a health care summit across from the White House Thursday morning, Sen. Harry Reid said a majority of Americans are demanding reforms and will be "disappointed or angry" if Congress fails to act this year.
In opening comments to the daylong event, the Nevada Democrat challenged Republicans to work constructively with Democrats, rather than complain about the sweeping versions of health reform that passed the House and Senate last year.
"If you have a better plan for making health insurance more affordable, let's hear it," said Reid, the Senate majority leader. "If you have a better plan for making health insurance companies more accountable, let's work on it. If you have a better plan for doing this while reducing the deficit, as our bill did ...... we are ready to listen."
Reid told President Barack Obama and the roughly 40 lawmakers and administration officials gathered at Blair House about Jesus Gutierrez, a Reno restaurant owner and new father who is paying off $90,000 in medical bills after his daughter was born with a cleft palate.
Four months after corrective operations, Gutierrez was told his insurer would not pay for what it determined to be a "pre-existing condition."
"He had health insurance," Reid said. "He paid his premiums. This should not happen to anyone in America."
"The story that I told about Jesus is not just the story of some young businessman in Reno, Nevada, running a restaurant and getting jerked around by an insurance company. It happens all over," Reid said.
He cited a Harvard University study that concluded 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies in 2007 were caused by medical problems, even as 78 percent of the filers had health insurance.
"America is the only country in the world where if you get sick or hurt you are gong to have to file bankruptcy," he said.
Reid also said if Democrats used the "reconciliation" process to bypass Republican opposition and approve health reform by a simple majority vote, it would be far from the first time it has been employed.
"Since 1981, reconciliation has been used 21 times, and most of it has been used by Republicans for major things," he said, including parts of the 1994 GOP Contract With America, Medicare reform and "tax cuts for rich people."