They want healthcare reform, stat

Levey is a Times staff writer.

Four leading advocacy groups representing business, labor and retirees are starting a campaign today to press Barack Obama to enact comprehensive healthcare reform, upping the pressure on the president-elect to tackle the issue quickly after he takes office.

In a letter to Obama, the Business Roundtable, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, AARP and the Service Employees International Union urge that a healthcare overhaul be a priority in the administration’s first 100 days.

The groups plan to spend nearly $1 million to publicize their cause in newspaper and television advertising in coming weeks.


“What we are doing is reminding not just the president but the Congress as well that . . . this remains one of the most important issues facing the country,” said Business Roundtable President John Castellani. “We need to now follow through.”

In their letter, the groups link healthcare reform with the nation’s bleak economic conditions.

“Addressing skyrocketing healthcare costs is a critical component of stabilizing household, national and global economies,” the letter said. “Inaction undermines the economic security of our families; limits the productivity of our workforce; stagnates job creation and wage growth; and threatens to crowd out investments in energy, education and infrastructure.”

Obama made healthcare reform a central plank of his presidential campaign, pledging a sweeping effort to expand coverage and lower costs.

But since his victory, he has not indicated how he plans to proceed with an overhaul that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars and spark an intense political battle.

In a national radio address Saturday, Obama made a general reference to healthcare reform, listing it with energy, education and tax relief as “key priorities.”


Several senior House Democrats have indicated they are uneasy about tackling broad healthcare legislation in the first months of the new Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has talked about an effort to expand the popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a more limited initiative that President Bush vetoed last year.

But there are growing calls elsewhere in the Democratic Party for swift action.

Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who chair the committees that would probably put together any healthcare legislation, have urged Obama to move quickly.

On Wednesday, Baucus plans to unveil a plan for universal health insurance coverage.

The Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, one of the nation’s most powerful unions and an Obama supporter, is mobilizing millions of people nationwide to press Washington for aggressive action on healthcare.

“We are going to run this like it is a presidential campaign, but our candidate will be healthcare reform,” said Dennis Rivera, chairman of SEIU Healthcare. “It will be very disheartening if there is no action.”

Castellani of the Business Roundtable said he hoped a comprehensive overhaul bill could be on the floor of the House and Senate within 100 days of Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20.


In 2007, the four advocacy groups lobbying Obama formed the Divided We Fail coalition to raise the profile of the healthcare issue in the presidential campaign.

The unusual partnership -- linking labor and business groups with the politically potent AARP -- secured pledges from Obama and more than two-thirds of the members of the new Congress to work across the aisles on the issue.

“We can’t allow campaign promises of bipartisanship and action to fall apart simply because the election is over,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s executive vice president. “Millions of Americans are still struggling to find affordable healthcare.”