Monday, February 22, 2010

Obamacare: Questions & Answers

What does Obama's new health care plan promise to do?

- It makes insurance more affordable by providing the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history, reducing premium costs for tens of millions of families and small business owners who are priced out of coverage today. This helps over 31 million Americans afford health care who do not get it today – and makes coverage more affordable for many more.

- It sets up a new competitive health insurance market giving tens of millions of Americans the exact same insurance choices that members of Congress will have.

- It brings greater accountability to health care by laying out commonsense rules of the road to keep premiums down and prevent insurance industry abuses and denial of care.

- It will end discrimination against Americans with pre-existing conditions.

- It puts our budget and economy on a more stable path by reducing the deficit by $100 billion over the next ten years – and about $1 trillion over the second decade – by cutting government overspending and reining in waste, fraud and abuse.

Will Obama's plan actually achieve these objectives?


Will Obama's plan involve "death panels" that will kill the elderly and disabled?

No... and if you believe that, you need to stop attending Tea Party rallies and start reading literature that disseminates information, not dogma and propaganda.

Will Obama's plan completely solve the health care crisis in America?


Is Obama's health care plan useless?

No. While it doesn't go nearly far enough in making high-quality health care affordable to every single American (which is the ideal), the humanitarian value of lowering costs, extending care to the socioeconomically dependent, and ending discrimination against patients with pre-existing conditions cannot be overlooked. Fiscal conservatives should also be pleased that, rather than INCREASING our budget deficit, this plan will ultimately REDUCE it by $100 billion over the next ten years - although, given their knee-jerk opposition to any policy that has the Obama stamp on it, the chances are that these conservatives will not appreciate this aspect of the proposal (or will try to spin it into something more sinister).

Is Obama's plan unpopular with the American public?

That depends on how you look at it. The individual policies contained within his proposal tend to be very popular; for example, 81% of Americans support a plan for a health insurance market exchange, 80% want a law that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, 56% are pleased with a plan that trims $100 billion of excessive health care costs, and 60% support Obama's plan to finance the new policies by increasing taxes on Americans who earn either $200,000 per year individually or $250,000 per year jointly. That said, when these isolated components are lumped together into a single policy named "Obama health care reform plan", the number of supporters falls to 40% in favor, as opposed to 49% against.

Is President Obama doing the right thing by focusing on health care reform right now?

This is a tricky question. There is an analogy that I often use to illustrate my position on Obama's emphasis on health care reform: Pretend that there is a cancer patient in a burning hospital. What do you do first - try to cure his cancer, or get him out of the building and away from the flames?

While the answer to this question is obvious enough when posed in such stark and viscerally powerful terms, it becomes a bit trickier when its principles are manifested in more abstract themes such as "unemployment", "budget deficits", and "health care reform". Few apart from the most strident conservatives would argue that each of those three issues rank among the most important in American life (the far right acknowledges the significance of our budget deficit but tends to be contemptuous of those who want to solve unemployment and our health care crisis). Yet because all three of those problems are so pressing, sometimes it can be difficult to properly prioritize them. Such was made clear in an article published earlier this month which described:

"One senior Democratic senator said (Chief of Staff Rahm) Emanuel was initially reluctant to push healthcare reform so early in Obama’s first term, counseling instead for the president to focus on jobs and the economy. But the president decided healthcare had to pass when he had a strong political mandate and the party controlled large majorities in both chambers."

I will not deny that, given the humanitarian urgency and moral imperative behind America's health care crisis, there is something extremely admirable in Barack Obama's determination to focus on resolving this problem. Unfortunately, the health care crisis - and for that matter the budget deficit, another issue on which Obama has placed great emphasis - is the cancer eating away at the flesh of America's socioeconomic fabric, while rising unemployment is the burning building in which we as a nation are trapped. That is why I wholeheartedly concur with the sentiments expressed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson when he recently said:

"Let's make a last effort to get universal health care... But if it doesn't work let's move into creating jobs and boosting the economy."

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