In his prime time speech on health care reform President Obama acknowledged public skepticism about his plan:
"I realize that with all the charges and criticisms that are being
thrown around in Washington, a lot of Americans may be wondering,
"What's in this for me? How does my family stand to benefit from health
insurance reform?' "
Here is how he answered that question:
"If you have health insurance, the reform we're proposing will
provide you with more security and more stability. It will keep
government out of health care decisions, giving you the option to keep
your insurance if you're happy with it. It will prevent insurance
companies from dropping your coverage if you get too sick. It will give
you the security of knowing that if you lose your job, if you move, or
if you change your job, you'll still be able to have coverage. It will
limit the amount your insurance company can force you to pay for your
medical costs out of your own pocket. And it will cover preventive care
like check-ups and mammograms that save lives and money."
All of that sounds pretty good, as does Obama's persistent pledge to
pay for the program by taxing the rich--in his speech he defined them
as people making more than $1 million a year. But then there is Obama's
nods to "a marketplace that provides choice and competition"--buzzwords
for the private health insurance system that now leaves 47 million
With Blue Dog Democrats breathing down Obama's neck, and Republicans
determined to oppose any plan the White House endorses, it's hard to
see how he is getting to comprehensive reform by August.
Obama has been careful not to make the same political mistakes the
Clintons made when they attempted to climb the health care hill.
Instead of setting up a commission to solve the problem at the White
House, he is kicking the whole thing to Congress. It may or may not
prove to be a winning strategy for getting something passed.
But there is an eerie similarity between Clinton's health care battle and Obama's.
Here is Bill Clinton on health care reform in 1993:
"Millions of Americans are just a pink slip away from losing their
health insurance, and one serious illness away from losing all their
savings. Millions more are locked into the jobs they have now just
because they or someone in their family has once been sick and they
have what is called the preexisting condition. And on any given day,
over 37 million Americans -- most of them working people and their
little children -- have no health insurance at all. And in spite of all
this, our medical bills are growing at over twice the rate of
inflation, and the United States spends over a third more of its income
on health care than any other nation on Earth."
Now here is Obama:
"We spend much more on health care than any other nation but aren't
any healthier for it. . . . This is not just about the 47 million
Americans who don't have any health insurance at all. Reform is about
every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if
they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job. It's
about every small business that has been forced to lay off employees or
cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive. And it's
about the fact that the biggest driving force behind our federal
deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid. . . . If we
do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will
continue to skyrocket. If we don't act, 14,000 Americans will continue
to lose their health insurance every single day. These are the
consequences of inaction. These are the stakes of the debate that we're
having right now."
As we know, the Clinton health care initiative collapsed. And much
of Clinton's progressive speech-making turned out to be window dressing
for micro-initiatives that made little impact on the big problems he
spoke about so stirringly.
Clinton himself has said that Obama ought to be able to pass health care reform. He told CNN in February
that public pressure for universal health care had grown dramatically
since the early 1990s. Plus, he said, "You don't have to have an
employer mandate. You don't have to have a tax increase now," he said.
"I think the obstacles are less than they were."
Unfortunately, that may also means that a health care plan that passes this year turns out to be less than meets the eye.