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Last night, President Obama laid out his vision for health care
reform before a special joint session of Congress. The pillars of his
plan are: i) Curbing the worst abuses of private insurance, ii)
Requiring everyone to have insurance, iii) Insurance exchanges, which
are basically government websites where customers can order insurance
off a “menu” of plans, the idea being that if tens of millions of
people order the #2 Combo, everyone’s lunch will be cheaper.
The president made it clear that the country can’t afford to wait
for reform. Last night, he took on the self-proclaimed fiscal
conservatives who claim that they oppose reform because it would
increase the deficit. “Put simply, our health care problem is our
deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close,” Obama said. The
president reminded the audience that each of us pays a “hidden tax” of
$1000 dollars a year to subsidize charity and emergency care for the
It was an impressive performance, but as John Nichols of the Nation observes, it was hardly a rousing, “to-the-barricades” oration:
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Obama still talked about “options” and “choices.” But he
suggested that they would be offered mainly by insurance companies that
would be enjoy “incentives”—i.e., new streams of taxpayer dollars—if
they agree to abide by consumer-friendly regulations and come up with
strategies for covering more of the uninsured.
The president expressed support for a very limited public option, a
kind of welfare program that only about 5% of Americans would choose to
join. This is not the public option his liberal supporters had in mind.
It’s non-threatening to the insurance companies, though. Private
insurers love the idea of the government low-grading the insurance pool
and taking on the sickest people who can’t get coverage anywhere else.
That means private insurers can make even more money off the remaining
healthy, paying customers.
James Ridgeway of Mother Jones is even less optimistic, “As for the public option, that’s pretty clearly gone down the drain.”
One GOP legislator decided that a joint session of Congress was
basically a town hall with the president. Rep. Joe Wilson (SC) screamed
“You lie!” when the president explained, for the umpteenth time that
undocumented immigrants will not be covered. As with the town halls,
Wilson’s performance had a whiff astroturf about it. Sure enough, Sue
Sturgis of Raw Story found that Wilson pocketed over $2 million in campaign contributions from the health care industry.
The president also reminded America that health care reform will not pay for abortions. (For more on myth-making around women’s health, see Laurie Rubiner’s excellent post at RH Reality.)
Instead of presenting a vision and asking Congress to line up behind
him, the president stressed that he was synthesizing a compromise
position incorporating ideas from the left and the right. Instead of a
coherent vision, the president’s scheme sounds more like a last-ditch
compromise plan to enable him to declare victory. Like many Democrats,
the president seems to be confusing the strategic with the expedient.
If “reform” means saddling ordinary Americans with expensive mandatory
insurance without a meaningful public option to keep costs in check he
could doom the electoral fortunes of the Democrats for years to come.
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