President Barack Obama embraced his role as persuader-in-chief Sept. 9 to start his closing push for major health-care reform. With the president’s conciliatory tone, offers of compromise and — let’s not forget — a solid Democratic majority in Congress, it is a safe bet some elements of this overhaul will become law before 2010.
The question now becomes: Can Congress focus on the reforms that are necessary and limit the cost for taxpayers? If the president is as serious about bipartisanship as he claims to be, we hope the answer will be yes.
The power of the president’s address to Congress came in its ability to identify the real health-care issues that need reforming. That includes making it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. That includes providing access for working people who do not receive employer-subsidized insurance and cannot afford it on their own.
And borrowing an idea from his rival Republicans, the president said reform can include limiting heedless malpractice lawsuits. Excessive litigation drives up the cost of health care and makes for bad medicine.
If Obama’s speech marked the end of the silly season in the health-care debate, it could not come soon enough. No, reform will not include “death panels” that decide when to pull the plug on grandma. And, hopefully, we will not end up paying for illegal immigrants and abortions (there seems to be disagreement over that).
However, a serious discussion must involve more candor from the administration. Rep. Joe Wilson’s “you lie!” outburst and the scene at town-hall meetings across the country reveal the deep worries that many have about legislation this complex.
People are rightly concerned that health-care reform would allow taxpayer-funded abortion, if indeed a decision on the issue is left to an administration official, the secretary of health and human services. There is real concern, too, that Medicare recipients will lose benefits if hospitals and other health providers receive smaller payments. Obama said Sept. 9 that, “I will protect Medicare.” The jury is still out.
The biggest bit of smoke and mirrors has to do with the cost of reform. The president puts the price tag at $900 billion over 10 years, but few neutral observers would agree. Nor is there much evidence that the nation’s health-care spending would be reduced significantly. Obama’s stated goals of capping annual costs to consumers and eliminating limits on lifetime benefits will be hugely expensive.
Health-care reform, as proposed, would add tens of millions of people to the ranks of the insured. It would tax insurers and health providers, which no doubt will raise the price of care for everyone. The president’s claims that reform will not drive up the federal debt do not ring true, no matter how convincingly he says that is the case.
The president reminded the public Sept. 9 why health reform is critical, and there are some meaningful changes to be made. The challenge will be for Democrats to find Republican allies who can lend credibility to any changes and help soothe the minds of rightly anxious constituents. Obama said he wants to cross the partisan divide on this issue. To do that, he can start by leveling with the public on the true costs of this reform.
— THE JACKSON CITIZEN PATRIOT