Obama Uses Prime-Time Speech To Argue for Health Care Reform
In a prime-time news conference on Wednesday, President Obama sought to assure middle-class U.S. residents that their financial and medical statuses would benefit from sweeping health care reform, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports.
He said the debate over reform concerns "every family, every business and every taxpayer who continues to shoulder the burden of a problem that Washington has failed to solve for decades" (Babington, AP/Houston Chronicle, 7/23).
He added, "Can I guarantee that there are going to be no changes in the health care delivery system? No. The whole point of this is to try to encourage changes that work for the American people and make them healthier" (Stolberg/Zeleny, New York Times, 7/23).
Reform Needed To Control Costs
Obama stressed the potential dangers of not overhauling the health system, saying, "If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket" and "14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day" (Hall/Page, USA Today, 7/23).
He also said that if the U.S. does not control health care costs, "we will not be able to control our deficit" (Miller/Bellantoni, Washington Times, 7/23).
To cut costs, Obama proposed reducing "waste" in the health care system, which he said is dominated by insurers. He said, "Right now, at the time when everybody's getting hammered, [insurers are] making record profits and premiums are going up."
The president also said that over the long term, costs could be brought under control by digitizing medical records, eliminating redundancy and changing the way doctors are paid (Connolly/Shear, Washington Post, 7/23).
He endorsed a House committee's plan to impose a new surtax on families with annual incomes greater than $1 million, but said that he would not support any tax on middle-class families. "To me, that [surtax] meets my principles" that it is "not being shouldered by families that are already having a tough time," Obama said.
Obama added, "I've also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade -- and I mean it."
Reform Will Get Done 'This Year'
Obama did not restate his call for the House and Senate to pass reform bills before the August recess, saying only that health reform will get "done this year" (Gerstein , Politico, 7/22). He added, "I want to do this right, but the American people need some relief."
The "stars are aligned, and we need to take advantage of it," he said (Youngman, The Hill, 7/22). However, Obama said that if "at the end of the day, I don't see that we've got it right, then I won't sign the bill. â¦ I won't sign a bill that I don't think will work" (CongressDaily, 7/23).
Defending Need for Overhaul
Obama denied claims that reform would negatively affect some people and that seniors would pay more out-of-pocket as a result of Medicare spending cuts (Connolly/Shear, Washington Post, 7/23).
Obama also pledged that the plans being debated in Congress would not place the government in control of the health system nor would they allow bureaucrats to intervene in medical decisions (Nicholas et al., Baltimore Sun, 7/23).
He said, "If you already have health insurance, the reform we're proposing will provide you with more security and more stability" and "will keep government out of health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your insurance if you're happy with it" (Gerstein , Politico, 7/22).
He also said, "I understand that people are feeling uncertain about this," adding, "They feel anxious, partly because we've just become so cynical about what government can accomplish that people's attitudes are, you know, 'Even though I don't like this devil, at least I know it, and I like that more than the devil I don't know'" (Fletcher, Washington Post, 7/23).
Checking the Facts
The AP/San Diego Union-Tribune scrutinized some of the claims made by Obama in the prime-time address.
Obama stated that government would not intervene in medical decisions, but, according to the AP/Union-Tribune, the House reform bill would appoint a commission to determine which treatments would be covered by plans taking part in a new health insurance exchange, and this oversight could eventually extend to private plans.
Obama also claimed that people would be able to keep their current insurance, but the "question is whether all of those private plans would still be in place if the government entered the marketplace in a bigger way," according to the AP/Union-Tribune (Woodward/Kuhnhenn, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/23).
Factcheck.org, a nonpartisan consumer advocacy group at the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center, contradicts the claim that people would keep their current coverage, according to the Washington Times (Miller, Washington Times, 7/23).
In addition, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag has said that Obama's claim to make reform deficit-neutral does not apply to the $245 billion required over the next 10 years to stop scheduled Medicare physician payment cuts (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/23).
Medical and hospital groups also have spoken out against claims made by Obama (Pear/Baker, New York Times, 7/23).
Obama Opinion Piece
As "we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before," and "health insurance reform is central to that effort," Obama writes in a USA Today opinion piece that uses language from the Wednesday address. Although "we still have a few issues to work out, what's remarkable is not how far we have left to go, but how far we have already come," Obama continues, adding, "I understand it is easy for folks in Washington to become consumed with the game of politics -- to turn every issue into a running tally of who's up and who's down," but "health insurance reform is not a game for the American people, and they cannot afford to wait for reform any longer."
He concludes, "They are counting on us to get this done. And we must not let them down" (Obama, USA Today, 7/23).
American Public Media's "Marketplace" on Wednesday reported on Obama's news conference (Keith, "Marketplace," American Public Media, 7/22).
CBS' "Evening News with Katie Couric" on Wednesday reported on the news conference (Couric, "Evening News with Katie Couric," CBS, 7/22). The show also included an interview with Obama (Couric, "Evening News with Katie Couric," CBS, 7/21). Another segment evaluated claims made by Obama (Andrews, "Evening News with Katie Couric," CBS, 7/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.