Obama’s State of the Union Address Touches on Health Care Issues
During the first State of the Union addressÂ of his second term, President Obama on Tuesday acknowledged that rising health care costs are the biggest driver of U.S. debt but argued against major reductions to entitlement programs to rein in those costs,Â The Hill reports (Parnes/Sink,Â The Hill, 2/12).
Instead, Obama reiterated his proposals to reduce entitlement spending through "modest reforms," such as reducing Medicare's payments for prescription drugs, raising premiums for higher-income Medicare beneficiaries and continuing to reform the way health care services are delivered (Baker , "Healthwatch,"Â The Hill, 2/12).Â
Obama said, "We'll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors," adding, "We'll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn't be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital -- they should be based on the quality of care our seniors receive" (Zigmond,Â Modern Healthcare, 2/13).
Obama also urged lawmakers to pass legislation to avoid the $85 billion in mandated spending cuts under sequestration, noting that the cuts would hamper the economy and "devastate priorities," including medical research (The Hill, 2/12).Â
"Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation," Obama said, noting, "Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy." He added, "Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's ... developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs" (Washington Post, 2/12).
Obama previously has called for Congress to replace the across-the-board cuts with a combination of spending reductions and tax increases (The Hill, 2/12). He noted that some lawmakers "have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making bigger cuts" to other programs, including Medicare (Gerstein/Samuelsohn,Â Politico, 2/12).Â
On Medicare, Obama said that he is "prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the Simpson-BowlesÂ committee."Â
Obama also briefly touted the Affordable Care Act's success in helping to slow the growth of health care costs, noting, "The reforms I'm proposing go even further." However, Obama signaled that he is "open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don't violate the guarantee of a secure retirement" (Modern Healthcare, 2/13).
Rubio Delivers Formal GOP Response
In the GOP responseÂ to Obama's address, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) touted Republicans' Medicare reform plan and criticized Obama for not offering his own proposal,Â The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Baker , "Healthwatch,"Â The Hill, 2/12).Â
In his speech, Rubio emphasized the need for a balanced budget, adding that the biggest obstacle to achieving that are federal programs, including Medicare, where spending is already "locked in."Â
Rubio said that both of his parents have benefited from the program and that he "would never support any changes to Medicare" that would hurt current beneficiaries. However, he said that the program is on an unsustainable fiscal path (Modern Healthcare, 2/13).Â
Rubio criticized Obama's opposition to major Medicare reforms, noting that "anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it" (Baker , "Healthwatch,"Â The Hill, 2/12).Â
He responded to Obama's "favorite attack of all" that Republicans are focused on protecting high-income U.S. residents, saying, "I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich, I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors" (Goldmacher,Â National Journal, 2/12).
Rubio also said Obama is "playing politics," while "Republicans have offered a detailed and credible plan that helps save Medicare without hurting today's retirees."
Rubio also critiqued the ACA, saying the law is responsible for individuals losing their preferred health insurance and for companies cutting back workers' hours. "Obamacare was supposed to help middle class Americans afford health insurance. But now, some people are losing the health insurance they were happy with." He added that "because Obamacare created expensive requirements for companies with more than 50 employees, now many of these businesses aren't hiring" and "they're being forced to lay people off and switch from full-time employees to part-time workers" (Baker , "Healthwatch,"Â The Hill, 2/12).
Fact Checking Obama's Address
Although State of the Union addresses are "carefully vetted," some of the president's policies can be misinterpreted when context is missing, according to theÂ Washington Post's "Fact Checker."Â
Regarding Obama's statement that he wants "to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the Simpson-Bowles committee," "Fact Checker" notes that Congressional Budget Office estimates of Obama's budget proposal find that it would achieve $337 billion in health care savings from 2013 to 2022, less than the $483 billion the Simpson-Bowles plan would generate over the same time period.
However, "Fact Checker" adds that both plans would result in $68 billion in savings in 2022, and Obama administration officials say Obama's proposals would result in greater savings than the Simpson-Bowles plan after 2022 (Kessler, "Fact Checker,"Â Washington Post, 2/12).Â
In addition, in mentioning that some lawmakers "have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making bigger cuts" to other programs, including Medicare, Obama neglected to mention that he signed the Budget Control Act, the legislation that would trigger the across-the-board cuts. Further, according to Bob Woodward's book, "The Price of Politics," the idea for the cuts came from a member of Obama's administration (Gerstein/Samuelsohn,Â Politico, 2/12).Â
Meanwhile,Â USA TodayÂ notes that Obama's claim that the ACA "is helping to slow the growth of health care costs," has yet to be proven because many of the law's provisions have not taken effect (Kennedy et al.,Â USA Today, 2/13).
Fact Checking Rubio's Response
Meanwhile,Â PoliticoÂ reports that Rubio's statement that "anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it" is not entirely accurate because Democrats have already made changes to the program that have extended its solvency by several years. In addition, the ACA has implemented many changes to how Medicare delivers care, which are designed to slow the growth of spending.
In addition,Â PoliticoÂ states that "there is nothing in the [ACA] that is forcing people to lose insurance they're happy with," noting the Census data show the number of uninsured individuals and the uninsurance rate decreased in 2011 (Samuelsohn/Kenen,Â Politico, 2/12).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.