Friday, September 11, 2009

The Washington Post's Downbeat Day-After Assessment of the Status of Health Care Reform

In Details Still Lacking on Obama Proposal, the WaPo reporter Ceci Connolly, a non-member of any right-wing conspiracy, provides a downbeat assessment of The Day After the Speech:

One day after President Obama pitched his plan for comprehensive health-care reform to a joint session of Congress, administration officials struggled Thursday to detail how he would achieve his goal of extending coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans without increasing the deficit.

After declining for months to identify himself with the details of emerging legislation, the president for the first time Wednesday embraced a set of ideas as "my plan." But the White House released scant specifics on legislation advertised as including new taxes, changes in malpractice law, a new national high-risk insurance pool, a commission on eliminating Medicare fraud, and tax credits for individual consumers and small businesses that cannot afford insurance. . .

More troubling (Ed.: than the cool reception from Republicans, that is) for Obama were the mixed signals from Democrats who, absent any signs of significant Republican support, have increasingly become the focus of the president's lobbying effort. After a White House meeting with Obama, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) voiced concerns that the most prominent health-care proposals fall short.

"We all understand that we want to move toward universal coverage, but I don't think we're focusing enough on costs," he said.

(Sen. Kohl is indeed of the Kohl's (NYSE "KSS") discount retail chain; the Kohl's know how to count.)

EBR has suggested that the taxpayer money wasted on bailouts of Big Finance is likely to mess up comprehensive reform. This article would appear to be consistent with that. Yet meaningful insurance reform could pass with strong bipartisan support; the President could claim victory and fight again in 2 years, one would hope with a stronger economy to allow a properly-funded program to be proposed that could achieve his goals.

A tragedy in all this is that Bob Woodward reported in "The Agenda" that Bill Clinton's first year as President ended with him rejecting the idea of proposing universal catastrophic health insurance coverage to be funded by simple "sin taxes" on cigarettes, alcohol and the like. This would have likely passed Congress overwhelmingly. Woodward reported that the President rejected the proposal as not grand enough; apparently Pres. Clinton wanted to be another FDR or LBJ; thus "Hillarycare" was born (or should I say "stillborn"). Where would we be now if that modest and needed catastrophic program had been enacted? Would Congress even have fallen to the Republicans in 1994?

An irony in all this is that the much-reviled G W Bush pushed through the first major expansion of Medicare in years, with a pharmacy benefit that actually worked operationally and came in under budget, with centrist support and both conservative and liberal opposition. At least on that specific campaign pledge, he was a promise-keeper and a uniter not a divider.

The current President, with complete control of Congress and with only talk radio and Fox News as significant sources of media opposition, likely feels the heavy burden of trying to do all he wants to do domestically while unemployment is poised to exceed 10%.

Money is only money; but health care is life and death for people, and to some degree life and death politically at least for the midterms a la Clinton 1994. Mr. Obama knows this; but will the money problems indeed be force majeure for comprehensive health care reform in 2009?

Copyright (C) Long Lake LLC 2009

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