President Obama stood before a joint session of Congress and delivered, by most accounts, an impassioned and compelling speech. He demonstrated again that, with the right words, Barack Obama is a natural born leader. He is a man who commands attention and has the uncanny ability to move people to action.
Health care reform must happen. This is not disputed by anyone, left or right. The means to that end, however, is the cause of much strife and anger in this country. For most conservatives, any health care paid for by the government is nothing short of “socialism,” despite successful “socialist” programs like Medicare and the Veteran's Administration. For most liberals and progressives, anything short of a true public, paid-for-by-the-government, option is a dismal failure in achieving anything close to real health care reform.
And never the two shall meet.
President Obama's address to Congress, while long on poetic bluster and passion, fell far short of what most liberals and progressives would call a dramatic overhaul of a broken and unsustainable system. It seemed, in fact, a potential boon to the health insurance industry.
And the devil was in the details.
While President Obama did address much needed additions for true accountability from our nation's health insurers and the average citizen's accessibility to said insurance, such as passing laws prohibiting insurance companies from denying customers based on pre-existing conditions, dropping clients when their health care reached unacceptable monetary limits, etc., he also left the much needed proposal of a genuine “public option” for millions of uninsured or underinsured Americans at the foot of Congress and basically told them, “take it or leave it.” The president, in saying he would be very interested in hearing any and all “alternative” ideas and insisting that a public option would only be a very small part of his health care package, left the back door wide open for dropping the public option altogether.
In other words, Obama hid his desire to appeal to stubborn Republicans and so-called Blue(Cross-Blue Shield) Dog Democrats behind a smoke-screen of overblown rhetoric about the moral imperative of health care for all and the “character of our country.”
Moreover, the President's speech more than hinted at a possible mandate for all Americans to carry health insurance, much like, as he put it, a state's requirement for citizens to have auto insurance. Take this initiative, drop any government-funded public option off the table, and you've got yourself one happy health insurance industry.
So, when you get right down to the nuts-and-bolts of President Obama's health reform agenda, the inclusion of a robust public option funded by the government becomes more important than ever. Without it, what we're looking at is an already bloated, corrupt, and unsustainable health insurance industry suddenly finding themselves with millions of new customers. Customers sent gift-wrapped by the government. And with those new customers comes much more profits.
Without a public option the insurance industry will have no real competition, so where's the incentive to reform? Regulating these companies with strict laws prohibiting them from discriminatory and predatory practices sounds great, but who, exactly, would be in charge of enforcing them? The same people charged with regulating Wall Street? There would be nothing to stop a new administration, literally bursting at the seams with health industry “contributions,” from moving into the White House and completely dismantling these laws. That's why a public option, funded by the government (and therefore run and funded by us) is so important.
And it needs to happen. Despite right-wing opposition. Despite a manipulated public convinced such a system would kill all of our grandparents, provide free, state-of-the-art health care to our millions of illegal immigrants, and toss bags of money to states so they can set up abortion assembly lines. These people will never believe anything a Democratic administration tells them. They're much more comfortable believing lies as long as those lies come from “trusted” Republican mouths like Sarah Palin and Chuck Grassley. They're far too comfortable hearing the words “government takeover,” when in fact the proper term would be “The People takeover.”
Cost, as well, is just another red herring. The proposed cost to reform our health care industry, including a public option, is just under a trillion dollars over ten years. Quick math tells me that's $100 billion a year. Less than the yearly cost of our invasion of the Middle-East. Shave 1 percent from our massive annual defense budget and there's your health-care-for-all.
President Obama was right when he called health care reform a “moral imperative.” Unfortunately, his proposal leaves far too much wiggle room to maintain the status-quo. Unfortunately, even when Barack Obama raises the volume and sharpens the rhetoric, it's still the actual words that matter.
If health care reform passes without the public option, which would be an assertion that every single American could live their life without fear of losing everything if they were to become catastrophically ill, then it's no reform at all.
It would be an historic day for no one but members of the health insurance industry.
Bonuses for all!