President Obama is back in Washington and the healthcare debate is still raging. Yesterday, the President seemed to jettison the public plan and the White House announced that in the next two weeks, he will make a major policy address on healthcare. Here are five vital points that the President must make in his speech and Democrats must adopt if we're going to pass meaningful healthcare reform this year.
1. The President Must State That a Mandate For Universal Coverage is Non-Negotiable
More than anything else that has been proposed, creating a mandate for every American to have some form of healthcare coverage is the key to a fairer, more efficient healthcare system. Having a mandate is also vital to keeping the insurance industry at the negotiating table and giving the President the leverage to make other large-scale changes to the health insurance market. The President must acknowledge that he has learned from Hillary Clinton's campaign the necessity of an insurance mandate and that in no way, shape or form will he sign legislation that does not guarantee every American healthcare coverage.
2. The President Must Take Ownership of a Plan
No more dueling Senate and House bills. The President must outline his plan and his vision for healthcare reform in explicit detail. He needs to be the leader on healthcare reform. One main reason the Democrats lost the healthcare debate in August was because there wasn't a single policy to defend. Every idea that was ever proposed by a Democrat, ranging from single-payer plans, to insurance co-operatives, to the public plan got lumped together and attacked. Without a clear, well-defined policy in place, Americans got scared of the vagueness. There was nothing explicit to defend other than reform itself, and Democrats were left running to plug holes in a leaky dam.
3. The President Must Remind Americans Why Healthcare Reform is Important
With all the talk of whether or not to include a public plan, death panels and socialized medicine, Americans lost sight of why healthcare reform was vital in the first place. President Obama needs to paint a vivid, emotive picture of the need for healthcare reform.
Republicans seized on the most emotional aspects of healthcare reform, like rationing and end of life care, and a single Facebook post from Sarah Palin in many ways defined the August debate. Instead of fighting fire with fire, Democrats tried to fight fire with statistics. And they lost. Democrats need to stop slinging statistics and start pumping up the emotion. President Obama and Democrats must be explicit and say that it's not ok and it's not the American way to leave citizens to die without health insurance coverage. The President needs to say that opposing reform means opposing small businesses and the self-employed, since right now, they're the ones paying the highest insurance premiums. The President needs to say that ignoring healthcare means placing an anchor on American-made products that we're trying to sell overseas.
4. The President Must Call Out His Detractors
Republicans who are opposed to improving healthcare and providing health insurance to those without it are thwarting reform without offering alternatives. By attacking Democrats' efforts at reform without offering solutions of their own, they have highlighted that they think things are fine just the way they are. It's time to call them out on it. The President must say that he likes a healthy debate and knows that on an issue as complex as healthcare, there are going to be ideological differences. Nevertheless, he must make it crystal clear that ideological entrenchment and attacking healthcare for political gain is tantamount to inactivity and cowardice. If Republicans want to block the President's plans for healthcare reform, Democrats must demand in every interview, town hall and speech that their opponents offer a plan to fix what's wrong with healthcare that offers more than tort reform and vague references to cost-cutting.
5. Healthcare is More Important than Re-election
Healthcare reform is imperative. Sixty-three percent of personal bankruptcies are fueled by high medical bills, 18,000 Americans die each year because they don't have insurance coverage and ignoring healthcare will cripple American businesses. More than all that, ignoring the shortcomings of the US healthcare system and turning a blind eye to those lacking sufficient coverage is just plain wrong. The President must go out on a limb and state that for him, healthcare reform is more important than re-election. He must state that issues like healthcare reform are precisely why he ran for President and he will not ignore them for political expediency. A pledge of support and display of courage will do more than anything else to illustrate why healthcare reform is imperative, and create momentum to pass meaningful legislation. Of course, the President could try for healthcare reform and fail, but that is a risk that every great leader needs to be willing to take.