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Originally published Thursday, September 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Grass-roots group releasing Voters' Health Care Platform

CodeBlueNow!, a Seattle grass-roots group, is releasing its Voters' Health Care Platform today. The platform outlines how ordinary Americans want to fix health care.

Seattle Times health reporter

Health-care town meeting

Where: Bell Harbor International Conference Center, 2211 Alaskan Way, Pier 66, Seattle

When: 7-9 p.m. today

To attend: $10 for the public; register by e-mail: staff@codebluenow.org, or by calling 206-217-9430. Tickets also available at the door.

More information:

www.codebluenow.org

Should all Americans be required to buy health coverage, much as drivers are required to carry auto insurance?

Should we consider counting employer-provided health insurance as taxable income?

And should we really be relying on employers to provide the majority of our health coverage in the first place?

Never mind socialized medicine or universal coverage. It's the seemingly simple questions that lie at the heart of the debate over health-care reform. And as discontented as Americans may be with the current system, many favor targeted fixes, not radical surgery.

That is one of the main conclusions of a Seattle nonprofit group's five-year, nationwide campaign to identify reforms that have the backing of the American public.

Today, the group, CodeBlueNow!, will release its Voters' Health Care Platform, a nonpartisan proposal that it says could and should serve as a blueprint for Congress and the next president.

The platform was distilled from opinions of 8,000 ordinary Americans. More than 1,200 of them took part in surveys in Washington and Iowa; 6,800 others submitted their own suggestions for reform to CodeBlueNow!

The group will discuss its platform at 7 tonight at a town meeting that's open to the public at Bell Harbor International Conference Center. Keynote speakers are two former governors — Republican Arne Carlson of Minnesota and Democrat Richard Lamm of Colorado. Former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner also is an honorary board member.

"Heavy lifting is ahead"

Lamm said CodeBlueNow! has shown that most Americans agree on broad principles about health reform. Among them are affordability, accountability, equitability and focus on prevention.

"The first step is to show America is not as divided on the major questions in health care," Lamm said.

Lamm conceded that CodeBlueNow's platform is thin on specifics. It doesn't take a position, for instance, on whether every American should be required to have minimum health coverage.

"This is a process, not a result," Lamm said. "The heavy lifting is ahead."

CodeBlueNow! founder Kathleen O'Connor said its surveys did find specific common desires, with most Americans wanting more information about costs and benefits of treatments, a greater accounting of where health-care dollars go and access to a wider variety of licensed health professionals, such as chiropractors and acupuncturists.

On a more fundamental level, Americans don't want a government-run program, nor do they want the responsibility to fall entirely on themselves, O'Connor said. That leaves improving the largely employer-based system we have now.

"Americans want affordable, accessible health care," O'Connor said. "They don't necessarily want to turn the health-care system upside down."

Candidates' plans

O'Connor said Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's health-care plan hews more closely to the public's demands than does the plan of Republican candidate John McCain, who wants all Americans to buy their own insurance. To encourage that, McCain proposes giving $2,500 to every individual ($5,000 for families) to offset premiums.

In exchange, McCain would make employer-sponsored health benefits taxable to workers. That would cost a family of four more than $2,000 in extra income and payroll taxes, according to Kaiser Family Foundation

O'Connor cautioned that this doesn't mean Obama's plan would necessarily pass muster with voters, either. Obama has called for extending coverage to all children and to more adults through subsidies and a new national insurance pool. But more Washington and Iowa voters than not disagree that health care should be paid for and managed by governments.

CodeBlueNow!'s platform joins a crowded field of reform agendas backed by various groups. The American Nurses Association, for instance, has called for covering all Americans through a government-managed program, much like Medicare for all.

The American Medical Association favors keeping the current system intact, but giving taxpayer subsidies to those who are uninsured.

Lamm argues that CodeBlueNow!'s objectivity gives its platform credibility.

"This is truly a citizens group that wants to solve a problem, not promote an agenda," he said.

Kyung Song: 206-464-2423 or ksong@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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