Pelosi takes a victory lap on healthcare reform

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a victory lap for the Democrats’ healthcare win on Tuesday, thanking a key industry group for its support of the sweeping legislation that passed last month.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) addressed several hundred members of the American Hospital Association in Washington at the organization’s annual conference. “You gave us confidence that this could be done. You gave us ideas about how to do this,” the speaker told the association, which backed healthcare reform and greeted her with warm applause. She said hospitals would be rewards with “32 million more patients with an insurance card” and “fewer uncompensated emergencies” that drive up costs. “Now is the time to make the benefits of reform a reality,” the speaker said, looking ahead to the challenge of implementing the legislation.

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Pelosi also sought to connect the healthcare law to the Democrats’ efforts to revive the economy, saying the added economic security of expanded health insurance would free Americans to take risks and start new businesses.

Outside the conference at the Washington Hilton, several dozen people in wheelchairs protested Pelosi’s appearance, angered that the healthcare law did not include a provision to expand home care for the disabled.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) also addressed the association, with Sebelius pledging to “stay vigilant” against insurance companies that try to raise rates or rescind coverage before the law takes full effect.

Cornyn faced a more skeptical audience that was broadly supportive of a law he aggressively opposed. “You and I found ourselves on a different page,” the senator said. He outlined his well-documented concerns with the legislation, though in more muted tones than he had on the Senate floor or before friendlier audiences. Cornyn said the law would raise healthcare costs rather than lower them, pointing to a report released last week by the chief actuary forecasting that costs would go up by $311 billion over the next decade.

Cornyn said the law would make the nation’s longterm fiscal situation “even worse, not better.”

“We’re not quite Greece yet, but given time, we can get there,” he said. The Obama administration has said the healthcare law will lower the deficit over the medium and long term.

Cornyn also pushed back against the perception that Republicans simply want to repeal the new law, saying that no one wants to “just repeal the law and not see it replaced with something that makes better sense.”