In the two year primary and general election season that was the 2008 presidential election, health care was a hot topic. Then, the economy started to tank and people were talking less about health care but the health care industry was still a mess.
Tonight, President Obama took his health insurance reform to the American people with a prime time news conference. He opened with remarks about where we are, as opposed to six months ago when he took office. He discussed the economy and its start of a recovery and the monies that have been spent on this effort so far.
In looking back over the news conference, this opening may have been the most concrete period of the entire news conference. President Obama could recite facts and figures and was reading prepared remarks. He knew that what he was saying was true. There were few times when anything he stated could be questioned.
The president says that people are coming around to this plan, that Congress has come far and that the hardest part now is to find the 1/3 funding that has not been found yet. The plan in Congress, being discussed and changed at this moment, will limit out of pocket costs, will cover preventative care, will not allow denial based on preexisting conditions. The big question is how to pay for the proposals that will change the incentives for big business – whether prescriptive, hospital, doctor or otherwise.
Ben Feller, of The Associated Press, wanted to know what ways of paying for the 1/3 of the cost that is not covered by reallocating dollars wasted in the current federal health care system the President thought were best. Had the President told Congress how to pay for this portion? Were there ways the President would not accept?
President Obama seems comfortable throwing out numbers. He stated that health insurance premiums are increasing three times faster than inflation. The average family pays over six thousand dollars more than in other advanced countries. So, there is evidently a problem that needs to be and can be fixed. Reforming health insurance will be deficit nuetral. The only portion currently being argued over is 1/3 of the cost. President Obama has suggested limiting itemized deductions for the wealthiest of Americans. He says this will pay for the 1/3 of the cost. He does not want, and will not sign, a bill that puts the 1/3 of the cost not found yet on the backs of middle class America. There are many ideas in Congress and this is an area that, while the President believes his idea is best, he admits there are many possible answers.
President Obama also stated that over the last decade, the middle class has seen its income flatline as health care costs have gobbled up what would be increases in income. Folks are skeptical about change.
David Alexander of Reuters asked why the rush for change. Quite easily, President Obama explained that there is a rush because of the letters he is receiving daily from families getting clobbered by health care costs. He also readily admitted that if there is no deadline in Washington, nothing happens. Doing something different always makes someone unhappy. Someone will like the status quo. This is why there is a necessity to set a deadline so that change can actually occur.
President Obama also took questions on what sacrifices would be required from a new health insurance system. He took questions on what sacrifices Medicare recipients would have to make. The questions that he answered that were specific to health insurance reform, he seemed comfortable with and more than ready to answer.
Then, came the later part of the press conference. There was a question from someone why health care reform negotiations were not being televised on C-SPAN and, to further the question of transparency – which, if you recall, was a big issue in the campaign last fall, why requests for a list of health care executives who have visited the White House had not been released. Finally, this question involved TARP transparency complaints.
Obama seemed to not like being on the defensive. He didn’t like that someone was pointing out that a promise from the campaign was not being fulfilled. It seems that President Obama is now realizing that everything he said in October and September may not have been possible as he does not have control over everything. Consequently, he cannot force C-SPAN to cover the multiple committee meetings that are regarding health insurance reform. President Obama also told the reporter that he did not know about the TARP question but would find out.
The press conference wrapped up with Lynn Sweet asking about the arrest, and subsequent dropping of charges against, of Professor Gates in Cambridge. While I do believe that the Cambridge police screwed up on this arrest from all I have read, I do not believe that the President of the United States, whether friends with the man or not, should say the police department screwed up while on national television.
With this having been one of many of President Obama’s prime time news conferences, the public is getting use to seeing the President respond to questions from the press. He takes most in stride. If tonight had a goal of getting the American people to decide they like the idea of health insurance reform, it was short on details. The only detail I came away with is that 2/3 of the cost is going to be paid for by reallocating wasteful spending. Nothing about what was said made me think that this reform is urgent or that I should support it.