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April 19, 2014

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Harry Reid to champion health reform at Las Vegas event

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will promote health care reform legislation at an event today in Las Vegas while questions continue over the sweeping bill, special deals for lawmakers and whether the final talks should be broadcast on C-SPAN.

Reid will be joined at UNLV by Nevada doctors, nurses and other health care providers as he makes the case for the historic legislation he led to Senate passage. The 5 p.m. event is open to the public.

Yet far from a victory lap for the senator whose leadership on health care has been celebrated in Washington, Reid’s talk is sure to bring protests.

Republican Sen. John Ensign voted against the health bill he calls a “terrible policy” and vowed to host a forum of his own this week. However, Ensign’s office declined to release information on his event.

The Republican National Committee complained that the majority leader “should have spent the last six months finding a solution that would have helped Nevada’s ailing economy.”

A spokesman for Reid shot back at critics by saying the senator has taken great steps to mend Nevada’s ailing economy by reducing health care costs, leading passage of the economic recovery package and working to ensure CityCenter in Las Vegas had the financing needed to complete construction and open -- saving jobs.

"That’s big talk from the folks who brought us the eight years of failed economic policies that created the national recession in the first place,” said Reid spokesman Jon Summers. “Try telling the person who has to file bankruptcy because they can’t pay their medical bills that health insurance reform isn’t an economic issue."

Democrats have before them a great task in not only melding a final bill for passage, but in selling it to an anxious public.

Polls are mixed in Nevada, with voters saying they oppose the current legislation but they also overwhelmingly agree that the health care system needs to be reformed.

Supporters are confident that once voters understand what is in the bill, they will embrace health care reform.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and other unpopular practices, while mandating that all Americans buy policies – with subsidies to help low- and middle-income families afford it.

But opponents believe the more the details emerge, the more opposition builds.

They expect voters to revolt over tax increases on the wealthy to help pay for the subsidies and penalties for those who fail to purchase policies.

President Barack Obama is expected to play a greater role in coming days as the House and Senate bills are merged into one for final passage, sources said.

Meanwhile, protests continue over the messy sausage making that is the legislative process in Washington.

House Democrats met today in Washington to plot strategy after House leadership convened with Obama at the White House this week.

Neither of Nevada’s Democratic Reps. Shelley Berkley or Dina Titus dialed into the meeting, due to scheduling conflicts.

Berkley has been touring Latin and South America this week, meeting with political leaders with colleagues from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Titus was in Nevada at a previously-planned visit to Creech Air Force Base to receive briefings on the remotely-piloted aircraft used for missions in Afghanistan.

Berkley’s spokesman said, however, that the congresswoman is relaying her position on a key issues to party leadership, including her desire to see improved Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors in the bill.

An Ensign provision in the bill that would allow companies to offer employees discounts on their health care premiums if they live healthy lifestyles is coming under renewed attack.

The American Heart Association and other groups critical of Ensign’s provision say it will provide a backdoor for insurance companies to jack up health care premiums.

“Although described as 'incentives' this practice allows employers to raise costs across the board for everyone and then lower them selectively for those who meet certain health targets,” said Sue Nelson of the American Heart Association.

Democrats have fences to mend within their ranks as reports are showing some senators now oppose the special treatment given to Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who received a deal that guarantees his state full federal funding for expanded Medicaid, which is the state-run health program for low-income children and families.

And Obama is coming under criticism for breaking his campaign pledge to televise the negotiations, as Republicans try to build momentum to put C-SPAN cameras in the meeting rooms.

After months of work, Congress has gone closer than any before it in passing a health care overhaul, which has been Obama’s top domestic policy priority. Yet there is still much work to do to pass a final version by the president's annual State of the Union address. For Reid, a victory lap may have to wait.

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