The health care reform debate has reached a point where maybe it is time for the president to vote "no" on it. In the end, that action might be the most fitting tribute to the commitment to health care made by Senator Ted Kennedy. Actually, the current debate centers around a health care plan that really doesn't exist -- not in the format that's been presented to the Congress. In fact, what is being debated is really a series of legislative calls for reform operating somewhat independently of each other, not a cohesive plan.
That's what President Obama has presented so far. But candidate Obama actually had a health care plan, and that plan was one that I thought was surpassed and bettered by only one aspect of Hillary Clinton's plan. Hillary wanted mandated universal required coverage, and the Obama campaign plan did not call for that, and I felt that this one difference tipped the scale just a bit in favor of Hillary's plan. The experience of Social Security shows that only a mandated, required enrollment in a program of this magnitude will work in the long run.
But in the end, after Barack Obama won the nomination, he still campaigned advocating an actual "Plan for Comprehensive Health Care Reform" that those of us who recognize the ills of the current system could solidly support. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum -- or the Capital -- funny things go on in either place. The original "Plan" was sliced, diced, and cut into a series of legislative initiatives focusing on different loosely organized tasks that no longer represent an actual plan.
Okay, I can live with that, assuming there's adequate health insurance available to me to cover treatment for all of the toxic intake we're getting from opponents of any meaningful government action on this most critical national need.
Opponents argue that the program will cost too much and the quality of care we get in the US now is far superior to that of virtually every other country in the world. Problem is, no one was ever arguing that medical care in the US was not the best. The argument is that too many people are left out of any care at all, and those who have access to good coverage are paying too much with costs continually going up and with at least a fifty percent chance that when they need to access that increasingly expensive care, the providers may close ranks to deny it -- all in the name of maximizing corporate profits. And you don't think that's a system that needs reforming -- now?
First of all, the president may be doing too much reaching out to Republicans on this and not enough reaching in to his own base.
Look, it's always wonderful to try to get as many people to agree as you can, but when you can identify a group that no matter what you do, they're never satisfied, then there are times when if the portion of the group that does support you constitutes enough of a working majority to take action, you should take action.
By example, let me digress for just a moment. The "Cash for Clunkers" program recently expired, and halfway through the program the government had to authorize more funding for the program because the demand was so great from average, working-every-day Americans who were taking advantage of this good deal for the consumer. Yet, I listened day after day to Sean Hannity and other conservative spokespersons blast the program as a "disaster." A disaster? I would ask Sean and other conservatives who profess to be friends of business and successful entrepreneurship the following question. Since when in the cycle of American business do we proclaim the introduction of a new product or service a failure when the demand for the new product or service is so great throughout the retail market sector that supply of inventory runs out in the first four days of market launch, and people are clamoring for more product so excitedly that the supplier has to hastily restock and order new production runs to meet the demand. No, Mr. Hannity, that's not a disaster -- that's success!
In fact, if you ask me, we should have spent more of that stimulus money directly on the working people and middle classes of the country and a little less of that money on the Wall Street bankers and financial behemoths considered "too big to fail" that Mr. Hannity and others are always defending. And maybe if we had done that, the stimulus package would really be working and some real jobs would already be created and lowering the unemployment numbers at a faster rate than is being done now. Actually, those numbers are still going up.
So then, with this being said, why would Mr. Hannity and many other conservative pundits and Republicans charge that Cash for Clunkers was a disaster? Because it was an Obama administration program administered by the government. They can't be satisfied. Even a good program is a disaster if the government is involved. Okay, if they can't be satisfied then let's leave them be and move on to get some much needed work done. It is clear that for this contingent of the "loyal opposition" -- more appropriate for Great Britain than here -- they will oppose anything, including programs that work or are absolutely essential, simply because they refuse to concede that either the administration or the government in general can do anything right.
And so, we constantly hear health care reform opponents pose this question: "Do you want your health care run by the government?" Well, let's see, Senator. No, instead, I want my health care run by the insurance companies that raise my rates every quarter, and then let me pay my premiums every month, and then when I need to make a claim, they look for any reason, like using too many paper clips on my original application, to deny my claim.
Or even better, Senator, I want my health care run by the insurance companies that documentation has shown will, in some cases, have lawyers full time on payroll whose job it is to figure out what paying a claim would cost, and then compare that with the cost of denying a claim, regardless of its merit, then letting the claimant sue, and then calculating what the settlement amount would be and seeing which of these two calculations works out best for the insurance company. Sure, Senator, sign me up for the health care run by those companies.
Are you kidding? What government administrator would engage in this type of condemnable behavior when we could have that person fired and/or vote their boss out of office in the next election?
And lest we forget, this doesn't even begin to address the situations where insurance companies deny coverage to people from the very beginning because of "pre-existing conditions" -- even when the claimant is receiving treatment for the conditions and has them under control. Is incompetence a pre-existing condition? And you don't think this is a system that needs reforming?
These are the points the president should be emphatically driving home day after day -- not spending time denying that "death panels" exist, a charge so patently absurd that the mere engagement in the conversation by the President of the United States only lends credibility to the charge itself.
The president needs to tell the American people what's in the plan, what the plan will do, and what its' benefits are -- not what it isn't and what's not in it. And the "government option" needs to be in it. It has to be in it.
The president argues that the bulk of the overall cost of his health care reforms will be paid for by the savings generated from the new programs. First of all, I'm always apprehensive about any program where its advocates say the cost will be paid for by the savings -- it almost never works out that way -- even when the actual results of the program are really good. But if there is no government option in this current program, millions and millions of Americans still will not have any coverage, just like things are now. And with that many Americans still uninsured and still creating extraordinary demand on the public system, the savings generated by the new reforms, if any, won't be nearly enough to pay for the new programs. And what does that mean for everyone else? A ballooning deficit and higher taxes.
Frankly, it's my judgment that if you're going to get a higher deficit and increase in your taxes, then you ought to at least get some real benefits.
And who says the government option has to be just as good as the options offered by private health insurers?
We can build in a natural "disincentive" in the government option by limiting the total coverage in all areas to amounts and available time periods that are lower than those offered by private insurers. That way, private insurers won't have to compete with the government or outside entities for the business of those who can afford to choose more comprehensive options for their coverage. And clearly, we all want to avoid creating an environment where current insurance providers would actually have to compete with other entities for business -- a concept so distasteful that it's almost un-American.
And the millions who still cannot afford the standard options offered by existing providers will now have basic access through the government option that will take care of basic and catastrophic needs, although recovery might be at the YMCA instead of at the St. Moritz. We should be able to live with that.
But we have to get those millions and millions of Americans into some type of coverage, and the government option is the only way to do that -- or possibly the co-op compromise, but as a non-profit, those entities will still need government or state subsidies.
If the government option goes away, so does meaningful health reform -- and the only thing that's left is more deficit spending, higher taxes, and your insurance premiums continuing to go up -- and a good chance that when you need the coverage your provider will say "No."
I say to the president, a good president will take the Bill Clinton advice and just get a bill passed -- any bill. Compromise everything like government options, etc., out of the bill and get something passed. And Mr. President, you are so good as an orator, persuader, and politician that you will be able to claim victory and make most of us believe it and make most Americans believe that you have really achieved a major milestone benefit for the American people. That's what a good president would do.
But if you are or want to be a great president, you will look at the bastardized bill that will pass thanks to compromises with gangs of 6, 12, or 20 on the Republican side and "Blue Dogs" on the Democrat side (gangs, dogs -- whatever happened to statesmen and gentlemen?), and you'll say, "This isn't the meaningful health care reform I promised the American people, and it will still cost just as much." And then you will proclaim just as Lincoln did when all the members of his cabinet voted "no" on a proposal and only Lincoln voted "yes": the Ayes have it, and the proposal was enacted.
Mr. President, under those circumstances, you should proclaim that you're withdrawing the bill, and then go on the stump and use that issue as the campaign theme for next year's off- year elections. Make all of those naysayers run against you and your personal popularity with the American people and your particular skills as a campaigner (skills we haven't seen much of since taking office).
It's worth the risk. You're bound to lose seats anyway in an off-year election, and in your case, your particular base (young people, single working women, moderates, teachers, well to do liberals, African-Americans and minorities), simply do not vote in big numbers in off year elections -- period.
This issue could get them back out to the polls, and in pulling a bill that had been stripped of any meaningful reform, and using your skills to make that issue the theme of the campaign and likely enable you to perhaps build a stronger coalition specifically to support you on that issue in the subsequent new Congress, you would now pay real tribute to the life of Senator Edward Kennedy and put yourself on a path to be not just a good president but a great president. Then all the comparisons to Lincoln will be merited, and I for one would gladly lead the call for such proclamations. And stop worrying about all the opponents of the meaningful health care reform you want for America -- after all, they're simply never going to be satisfied!
Carl Jeffers is a Los Angeles-and Seattle based columnist, TV political analyst, radio talk show host and commentator, and a national lecturer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.