Straight Talk or Dodge? Obama Video Address: August 8, 2009

In this week’s video address, after making a brief comment about some (minimally) positive economic news, Obama gave a cursory discussion of the health care debate going on today. He used a phrase that really got me thinking: consumer protection.

Just how much better would this bill be going down if it had been framed as a consumer protection bill, a bill that protects those who have health care from unscrupulous insurance companies and those who don’t have health care at all. To do this, you eliminate the so called “public option” and you simply legislate serious regulation of the insurance industry. What could be regulated?

  1. Caps on premiums.
  2. Low cost plans tailored for the poor with corresponding premium caps.
  3. Minimum standards of coverage must be met by agencies. i.e. mental health coverage, end of life consultations, etc.
  4. Prohibition on denial of service based on prior condition.
  5. Prohibition of termination of coverage when a claim is made.
  6. Mandatory enrollment in SOME plan for everyone (so that the premium pool is large enough to fund claims). You drive a car, you have to insure it. You have a body, you have to insure that too.
  7. Don’t touch Medicaid and Medicare except to enhance efficiencies and eliminate waste.

Couldn’t these measures be legislated, perhaps by establishing a regulatory agency that would vet every private insurer for compliance? The cost to taxpayers making more than $250,000.00 a year would be neglible and there would be no perception that government was taking over health care.

Well, that’s not the course we’re on. While I maintain that the air is full of melodrama right now, with Chicken Little’s of all persuasions running around yelling and screaming, I don’t think the White House or Congress has done a good job of education and that is perhaps because the bills being discussed at least sound like they are doing too much too soon.

A much more informative discussion of these issues took place at a New Hampshire town hall meeting hosted by Obama today. I watched the town hall live.  A good “live blog” of the town hall can be found here. Obama dismissed some of the foolshness going on but “dodged” a couple of points that will continue to undermine his effort until he frankly discusses them.

The Highlights:

  1. Obama dispelled the death panel rumor.  There is a provision that will allow patients to be reimbursed for advisory sessions with their doctor concerning end of life issues. Period.
  2. Health care will be rationed … nonsense. Health care is already rationed. This legislation will restrict companies from denying coverage or dropping coverage altogether based on prior illness or an expensive claim based on sudden catastrophic illness.
  3. If it’s good enough for us why not good enough for Congress? A nonsensical argument … we will be given a plan comparable to what Congress already has. Our public option will resemble their Federal Plan. Why do they need to be on a plan comparable to what they already have?
  4. The “snitch list”: One town hall questioner made a passing reference to and Obama pounced on it. He griped that he makes an attempt to hear what people are thinking about and he gets accused of creating an “enemies list”. I’ve stated before (in the comments section of earlier posts) that the so called snitch list was a good idea executed poorly.

The Lowlights (and Dodges?):

  1. Obama repeated something he has said all along, namely that if you like your current doctor and your current plan, you won’t have to change. The problem is that Obama has no control over this. He is writing a check he can’t cash. If the public option lowballs all private insurance, and private insurance refuses to lower their premiums, employers will choose to offer their employees ONLY the public option. This would indeed force employees onto the public option with a potential change in coverage and doctor. Until Obama acknowledges this possibility, he will take a credibility hit.
  2. He was asked why he changed his mind from being for  single payer years ago but not for single payer now. I was quite disappointed to see Obama completely dodge this question. He reiterated his support for the current plan which is not single payer, but he did not acknowledge his prior position (which is well documented) nor why or whether he has had a true change of heart.
  3. In an attempt to assert that the public plan will not drive private insurance out of business, he said, “If you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.” Yikes! If he had just said UPS and FedEx are doing fine he would have made his point but then he went the extra mile and said the USPS is having problems. What does that say? Private insurance will do just fine because the public option will be the one that’s “always having problems”? Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

This blogger concludes that the Obama administration has lost control of the message in large part because the message is too complex. Consumers love to be protected. Make the bill about consumer protection and then we’re in business!

And now the President of the United States of America:

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