Last night in his address to Congress, President Obama made a clear and convincing case for reforming our broken healthcare system. He laid out a plan that would protect those who have insurance and provide tax credits for those who don't. And he pledged to cut spending and raise taxes on expensive plans in order to pay for it.
President Obama also addressed the scenes in recent town hall-style forums across the country, where representatives and senators have tried to discuss plans for healthcare reform. Often, these events have turned into shouting matches--a chance for citizens who oppose the President to berate their elected representatives, often invoking the specters of 'rationing' and government 'death panels' to bolster their case.
While it's tempting to think that most Americans - and New Yorkers in particular - are well-informed and immune to these myths, recent polls show that members of all political parties, across the country, are confused about what will happen to their health care. Just recently, at a town hall event in Forest Hills, Queens held by Rep. Anthony Weiner - who I believe is on the right side of this complex issue - senior citizens expressed fears that the legislation in Congress would give government the power to dictate an individual's end-of-life decision; provide health insurance for undocumented immigrants; and force individuals out of their current insurance plans. One attendee said: "If Obama's plan goes through, they'll give me an aspirin and ask me how I want to die--and that's it."
That's why it's important to reiterate some of what the President said last night, so that New Yorkers are fully informed about his efforts to reform health insurance in this country.
To be clear, there is no current legislation or proposal that would create a panel to decide end-of-life care--in the President's words, "It is a lie, plain and simple." (Under the House bill, Medicare would simply reimburse optional end-of-life counseling for seniors). Nor would any bill give free health insurance to undocumented immigrants--despite the suggestion of Rep. Joe Wilson who, in a stunning show of disrespect to the President, revealed the true face of Republican opposition.
These are only some of the myths being spread by people who have an interest in the failure of health reform and Barack Obama's presidency. They come from such prominent conservatives as Sarah Palin, self-appointed health care "expert" Betsy McCaughey, and even Sen. Charles Grassley, the supposedly moderate Republican involved in Senate negotiations. We must aggressively push back against this blatant disregard for the truth, for the American people deserve far better.
There is, indeed, a reason to be worried. If we don't do something to reform the system, costs will continue to rise, exacerbating our current fiscal crisis; it will still be up to your employer whether you have healthcare; and insurance companies will continue to discriminate against clients with preexisting conditions. Whether or not we end up with a public insurance option to compete with the private companies, there is much we can do to regulate the insurance companies and provide subsidies for those who can't afford insurance.
As President Obama said last night, "The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action."
We have no choice but to act.