If Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is "inching toward a consensus" with healthcare industry groups on a framework for comprehensive health reform, one activist group with a liberal bent is none too happy about it.

California-based Consumer Watchdog (formerly called the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights) faxed a letter Friday to Kennedy and the rest of the Senate protesting their "back door negotiations" with healthcare lobbyists.
An enterprise as great and critical as guaranteeing affordable and high quality health care for all Americans requires a public process and public discussion. Back door negotiations with the medical insurance complex are doomed to ignore the will and sentiments of the American people.

Consumer Watchdog takes particular umbrage to the possibility that Kennedy is prepared to include an individual mandate to buy health insurance in the bill.
We are deeply disappointed to read in today

The individual mandate stands to be one of the most controversial elements that could wind up in a Democratic health reform bill.

Kennedy's support for this approach wouldn't be terribly surprising given that he championed Massachusetts's universal healthcare program.

But President Obama campaigned against the mandate during his bid for the White House, saying he favored only a mandate for children. The health insurance industry has embraced an individual mandate and agreed to couple it with lower premiums for older and sicker people.

Kennedy and other Democratic senators are getting closer to a deal with a gang of interest groups on certain elements of health reform legislation, including the mandate, the Times reported. Based on that story and others, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are participating in the talks, as are the American Medical Association, the AARP, the AFL-CIO, Easter Seals and groups representing small and large employers.

- Jeffrey Young