GEOFF CUTLER: Take the Best and Leave the Rest
It's no secret that this column has been highly critical of the Obama administration, especially when it concerns issues of government meddling in the private sector.
It is this meddling that has drawn the loud and vocal criticisms from the American people regarding health care. August's town hall meetings and tea party demonstrations are more about what is perceived as growing government control over our lives than they are about this one particular issue.
So it may come as a surprise when I say that within Obama's speech to Congress Wednesday night are all the essential ingredients for constructive health care reform.
The president rightly pointed out that too many Americans can't afford coverage, that those with coverage are often dumped at the onset of serious illness, and that something must be done about rising costs.
"Since health care represents one-sixth of our economy," he went on to say, "I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch."
This has been the platform of Republicans in Congress and citizen detractors at town hall meetings.
In a three-point proposal, the president outlined his goals: Make it against the law for private insurers to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. Create an insurance exchange where individuals and small business can get affordable health care. And finally, provide tax credits to those who still cannot afford coverage.
Later in the speech, Obama even threw a bone to Republicans when he recognized the need for examination of medical malpractice lawsuits.
That's a good plan, and provides the basics of sound health-care reform. If Obama had ended the speech at this point and told Congress to go and work out the details in a bi-partisan way, he might have changed a lot of minds and arranged the building blocks for consensus. Unfortunately, he kept on talking.
Instead of dumping the public option outright, he left it on the table, saying it could be implemented for those without coverage, and to keep private insurers accountable. He said only 5 percent of Americans would sign up.
This is just silliness. If employers saw themselves paying large sums more for coverage than what people could get under a government program, employers would dump their plans. The public option would then balloon from there and cripple any competitiveness that might have been introduced into the private sector.
Obama said the cost of this reform could be covered without adding a dollar to the deficit, and that the $900 billion dollar price tag could be reached by reducing waste and fraud in Medicaid and Medicare. That may help him get a bill passed, but who really thinks government involvement in health care won't cost us anything? More foolishness that isn't believable.
And finally, Obama made his biggest mistake of the speech by saying, "I will not stand by while special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as an option. Not this time. Not now."
Is that a threat? All this does is re-energize opponents of reform, and it is the one thing that those against it will remember and take away from the speech. American citizens are the ones who have spoken out the loudest against the current health-care initiatives, not special interest groups.
In little over eight months, President Obama has lost a lot of public good will. We know when we're being lied to. He doesn't seem to understand that the American people are not stupid.
We read HR3200 when he and Congress did not. We saw Congress vote against subjecting their own families to any new reforms. We know most Democratic congressmen wouldn't hold town hall meetings. We've been witness to misguided policies that threaten the private sector, the Constitution and our founding principles.
Bipartisan reform might be possible by incorporating Obama's three-point proposal from the beginning of his speech, dumping the public option, implementing tort reform, allowing people to shop for policies across state borders, and by asking Republicans to join in on the conversation.
Geoff Cutler is owner of Cutler Tree LLC in Southern Pines. He writes for Pinestraw Magazine under the heading "Thoughts From the Manshed."
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