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Newest Labor-Business Coalition Pushes Health Care Principles

By Mary Agnes Carey, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

February 7, 2007 -- Capitol Hill lawmakers are reacting favorably to the newest labor-business coalition focused on reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

AT&T, Wal-Mart, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are part of the wide-ranging group that announced Wednesday a set of principles to overhaul the nation's health care system by 2012. Other founding members include the Center for American Progress, the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, the Communications Workers of America, and Intel.

The group, known as Better Health Care Together, favors quality, affordable health insurance coverage for all Americans and believes that individuals should protect and maintain their health. Better value for the health care dollar is another tenet, as is the belief that businesses, governments, and individuals should play a part in managing and financing a new American health care system.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who has formed her own exploratory committee and is considered a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the coalition's formation "is one more piece of evidence that there's broad agreement that Americans deserve a health care system that covers everyone and lowers cost."

Clinton also said that passage of a universal health coverage plan "will be one of my top priorities as president."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is championing his own measure (S 334) to create universal health care coverage, said the alliance of business and labor groups creates even more momentum for fixing the nation's health care system.

"What business and labor seem to be agreeing on more and more is that everyone needs to be covered and it can't be done on the backs of business if we are to be competitive in a 21st global economy," Wyden said.

Founders of Better Health Care Together have pledged to convene a national summit by May and recruit additional labor, business, government, and nonprofit leaders to join the coalition and support its principles.

Last month, SEIU also joined with AARP and the Business Roundtable to call on politicians to overhaul health care and Social Security. The group, dubbed "Divided We Fail," said that a joint effort from diverse organizations is needed to pressure lawmakers to act at a time when rising health care costs have strained American households and businesses alike.

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