Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Challenges to a Bold Health Reform Campaign

Challenges to a Bold Health Reform Campaign
by Jordana Laks

President Obama will address the nation tonight in a prime-time news conference at 9 pm EDT, in a speech that will likely focus on his push to overhaul the health care system. Obama’s health reform campaign has rocked the nation in recent months, stimulating both great enthusiasm and powerful debate among legislators and interest groups.

The stakes are high: Obama has insisted that both the House and the Senate pass health legislation before the August recess. But time is running out, and the House bill, which two committees have passed and a third is considering, is being attacked from all sides. Republicans and conservative Democrats reject the surtax on high-income households and the huge cost of expanding coverage to the uninsured- a little over $1 million over the next ten years. On the other hand, some liberal groups insist that the bill does not do enough to reward quality care and eliminate wasteful spending. The Mayo Clinic, the largest non-profit medical group practice in the nation, which has been praised by Obama as a model for health care delivery, criticized the House bill on Monday," saying, “The legislation misses the opportunity to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients.”

The main concern on everyone’s mind is cost. Health care costs are ballooning out of control and now consume one-sixth of the United States economy, yet approximately 47 million people are uninsured and health outcomes are mediocre at best. Obama recognizes these symptoms of a broken health care system and has emphasized urgency,stating that if we do not act now, “then families will spend more and more of their income for less and less care.”

But experts have declared that the House health reform bill will not save money, as Obama claims. And the general public has contradicting opinions about the need for change in our health care system and the burden that citizens should bear for that change. David Leonhard’s article in today’s New York Times gives a great overview of the major challenges facing Obama’s efforts to galvanize support for health reform:
On the subject of health care reform, most Americans probably don’t have a good answer to the question. And that, obviously, is a problem for the White House and for Democratic leaders in Congress.

Current bills would expand the number of insured — but 90 percent of voters already have insurance. Congressional leaders say the bills would cut costs. But experts are dubious. Instead, they point out that covering the uninsured would cost billions.

So the typical person watching from afar is left to wonder: What will this project mean for me, besides possibly higher taxes?

Barack Obama was able to rise from the Illinois State Senate to the presidency in large measure because of his ability to explain complex issues and then to make a persuasive argument. He now has a challenge worthy of his skills.

Our health care system is engineered, deliberately or not, to resist change. The people who pay for it — you and I — often don’t realize that they’re paying for it. Money comes out of our paychecks, in withheld taxes and insurance premiums, before we ever see it. It then flows to doctors, hospitals and drug makers without our realizing that it was our money to begin with.

The doctors, hospitals and drug makers use the money to treat us, and we of course do see those treatments. If anything, we want more of them. They are supposed to make us healthy, and they appear to be free. What’s not to like?

The immediate task facing Mr. Obama — in his news conference on Wednesday night and beyond — is to explain that the health care system doesn’t really work the way it seems to. He won’t be able to put it in such blunt terms. But he will need to explain how a typical household, one that has insurance and thinks it always will, is being harmed.
Leonhard goes on describe our extreme health care expenses compared to other developed countries, the solutions offered by the House health reform bill, and criticisms of these proposals. He accurately captures the rising national tension as Obama’s pledge to achieve affordable coverage for all faces harsh critics and competing interests. Tonight’s news conference will play an important role in setting the tone for the next few weeks as Obama’s deadline for health legislation approaches.
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