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OBAMA TALK MEETS BROWN-WAITE TEST

Hours before President Barack Obama's speech on health care reform last week, U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite sent out an e-mail that made her sound a little like a policy-minded Santa Claus.

She'd made her list of seven major health care concerns, she said, and would be double-checking it as the president spoke.

So, let's see how her priorities square with Obama's:

Fix Medicare first: That's a lot to ask, considering the Obama administration expects the program to run out of money by 2017. Still, Obama said reform will extend Medicare's life by cutting waste.

Medical malpractice reform: Obama said he's willing to talk to Republicans about it and even used their pet phrase, "defensive medicine,'' meaning all those tests that are less about diagnosis than covering doctors' you-know-whats if they end up in court.

Portability: Definitely talked about that one. "If you lose your job, you will get coverage,'' he said.

Buy across state lines: Well, not in precisely those terms. But he did suggest a nationwide insurance pool would break up the strangleholds that some insurers have on regional markets.

Eliminate the small business surtax: This refers to a proposed tax on people earning more than $280,000 a year, whether they own businesses or not. Obama didn't mention this specifically, but did say 95 percent of small businesses would be exempt from offering health insurance.

Cover pre-existing conditions: Yep. It was one of the cornerstones of the speech.

Address illegal immigrants: Check. No new coverage for illegal immigrants, Obama said.

Brown-Waite, predictably, challenged some of Obama's facts. And besides the "death panel'' charge, which Brown-Waite has helped shoot down, most objections she and other Republicans offered have at least a germ of truth - no matter how irresponsibly they've been stated.

The Times' PolitiFact.com Web site said U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who screamed out "You lie!'' to Obama's statement about illegal immigrants, was actually the one spouting misinformation. But the House health reform bill, it added, would allow illegal immigrants to buy into the regulated insurance pool - something Obama now says he opposes. Also, plenty of independent commentators agree with Brown-Waite that reform will likely cost more than Obama estimates and that, so far, it doesn't do enough to hold down costs.

But Obama's speech did show that his concerns are Brown-Waite's concerns. It deserved a better, more constructive response than Brown-Waite gave it.

Saying his proposals differed from the ones in the partisan House of Representatives bill that she had seen (wasn't that the point?), she dismissed them as "a whole lot of fluff'' and repeated a frightening claim that the House bill would cut Medicare; the AARP has previously criticized her for overstating these cuts.

She also complained that the president has never invited House Republicans to talk about health care reform. But if Brown-Waite really thinks, as she said, that "we need health care reform,'' she should take Obama's speech as one big invitation to work cooperatively and get it done.

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