Pelosi keeps public — and her own — options open in San Francisco talk

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rallied the faithful in San Francisco Saturday afternoon, drawing the loudest applause (there had already been cheers for heavy-hitter Democrats, San Francisco liberal causes and hometown heroine Pelosi herself) with an assertion that passage of the health reform bill will happen soon. She said the House bill is the stronger,  and negotiations to reconcile House and Senate versions into a final bill “are intense.”

Whether that final bill will include the public option her audience of several hundred supporters clearly wanted remains in doubt – and Pelosi was keeping her own options open. “Any bill we approve will have to pass the Triple A test,” she said: “Affordability, specifically for the middle class, Accountability – insurance companies will have to be held accountable; and Accessibility.”

Accessibility, of course, brings the issue back to the public option, which the bill will have, Pelosi maintained, “…or what the public option was intended to do: keep the insurance companies honest.”

The invitation-only Saturday event was billed as a New Year Celebration, and held on the first anniversary of a similar gathering hailing her ascension to Speaker last year.  Both took place at Delancey Street, a residential self-help community founded in 1971 to help substance abusers, ex-felons and “people from America’s underclass” get back on their feet and into productive lives. A few of the 14,000+ who have graduated from Delancey Street programs mingled with the likes of former state senator and current California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton, prominent gay California State Senator Mark Leno, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Almost anyone who is, or aspires to be, anyone in local Democratic politics was working the room.

Pelosi worked it herself, smiling and greeting her way through the crowds for several hours. When she returns to Washington after this weekend at home, the greetings and workings are guaranteed to be a little more fractured.

Pelosi Reaffirms Public Option, Insurance Reform; Healthcare "A Moral Imperative"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, addressing a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Health Summit in San Francisco this morning about Obama’s health reform, stressed elements of the three House bills that might seem palatable to her audience: cost containment, IT design and integration with existing systems to create universal access to care. But she did not back down on a few other consistent statements such as the assertion that no bill will pass the House without a public option.

“We will invest in medical research and technology,” Pelosi said; and will incorporate elements such as electronic medical records for individuals to speed care.

It was clear there were mixed levels of support for reform in her audience. California Pacific Medical Center CEO Warren Browner MD, MPH drew muted chuckles and no boos with a throw-away comment that President Obama had “spent more time on choosing a dog” than on crafting a health policy. CPMC, a Sutter Health Affiliate, was presenting sponsor of the event.

Speaker Pelosi, though, hammered away at the primary intentions of reform: “improve quality, expand coverage and contain costs” while providing universal access to quality healthcare. “We will,” she said, focus on “quality, not quantity; wellness of the person not utilization (of facilities and technologies); value, not volume; and a commitment to prevention and wellness.”

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom addressed the gathering earlier, touting the success of his “Healthy San Francisco” universal coverage program now in its second year. An independent Kaiser Family Foundation poll recently showed Healthy San Francisco to have a 94% approval record, prompting City/County Department of Public Health Director Mitch Katz, MD to ask when any program of any sort had ever gotten a 94% approval record. Citing the need for protection of such elements as in-home services in an aging population, Newsom said the program’s success was attributable largely to partnerships with local hospitals, clinics and medical facilities (CPMC is one), specifically singling out Kaiser Permanente, which signed on in July. The program does not offer a national model, Newsom said, but has many elements a national plan could adopt. Healthy San Francisco includes things that might not get into a national bill but are favorites with wellness proponents: community organic gardens, city-funded salad bars in schools and an ad featuring a soda-equipped young boy admitting to “a drinking problem.” Another key to the program’s success, Newsom said, is its ultra-simple one-page enrollment form.

Pelosi insisted that the final bill will include “insurance reform: no refusal based on pre-existing conditions, no co-pay for prevention, no cut-offs.”

And the major themes were reiterated: “As President Obama has said, universal healthcare is a moral imperative,” she said; “we are the only country in the developed world without it. I say to those who would have us do a little bit, and another little bit, and another little bit — Lyndon Johnson settled for half a loaf; this is the other half of the loaf.”