President Barack Obama hosts Republicans and Democrats at a high-level meeting Thursday that seeks to break an impasse over how to revamp the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare industry.

Here are some questions and answers about the event at Washington's elegant Blair House, across the street from the White House, which will last about six hours and be shown on national television.


An array of officials will represent the administration, led by Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

About 40 members of Congress are also due to attend, including the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate, plus the chairman and top Republicans from the committees in both chambers that considered the sweeping overhaul bills that passed the Senate and House.


Obama and other members of his administration insist they see the summit as a chance for the two sides to get together and exchange ideas about how to fix the massive industry, which alone accounts for about 16 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

But some observers say Obama may be setting up a carefully choreographed attempt to ram his healthcare plan through Congress over the objections of the Republicans.

Obama devoted a great deal of his first year in office to trying to persuade Congress and the American people to accept sweeping changes in the U.S. healthcare system. But the effort is now on life support, in the face of staunch Republican opposition to his plans and opinion polls showing public wariness about an extensive overhaul.

A successful summit could revive the public's enthusiasm about changing healthcare, by convincing Americans the overhaul would be about cutting costs, keeping insurance rates down and expanding coverage to more people, rather than higher taxes, uncertainty and losing control of their medical care.


At the very least, Republicans want to make a convincing case for their argument that the healthcare plans should be dramatically scaled back, or thrown out altogether. They want a simpler, less costly step-by-step approach that would limit medical malpractice lawsuits, allow small businesses to form health insurance groups and permit insurers to sell policies across state lines.

Many also seem intent on denying Obama the passage of any sort of healthcare revamp after a year of hard work on the issue, with an eye toward elections in November in which they hope to drastically cut into, or even eliminate Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.


Many analysts suggest the daylong event will be more about scoring political points in an election year than about fixing a system in which 46 million Americans -- nearly a sixth of the population -- are without medical coverage.

But both the Republicans and Democrats risk deepening voter anger over the perception that Washington is so mired in interparty bickering that it is incapable of getting anything done, even on an issue as important as healthcare.

Both the Democrats and Republicans in Congress have as much to lose as Obama.

The president's approval rating is hovering at about 50 percent, dampened partly by concern that his lengthy focus on healthcare meant he has taken his eye off the economy, the country's No. 1 problem.

But with every seat in the House and more than one-third of those in the Senate up for grabs in November, opinion polls show Congress' approval rating is only about half that high, at best.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)