One of the most revealing moments in Saturday's debate over health care reform was when Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York took the floor. Weiner is a rising star in the Democratic Party, having quickly established himself as an unusually engaging speaker. But, in this case, it was Weiner's effective use of a prop that stood apart. The prop was the handbook for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, or FEHBP--which is, very roughly speaking, a model for how a reformed health care system might work.
When conservatives scream about socialized medicine and death panels, you should tune them out. But lately conservatives have been making an argument you should hear. It's about whether we can believe Congress when it promises to raise taxes or cut spending--and, as such, whether we can believe that health care reform can actually be fiscally responsible. As you may know, many promoters of health care reform say that the proposals in Congress will pay for themselves and, over the long run, actually reduce what we spend, as taxpayers and as a society.
The insurance industry did itself no favors last week when it released a report purporting to show that health care reform would cause insurance premiums to skyrocket. The report focused on only a few specific changes contained in the various reform bills, rather than the bills in their entirety. And the report came out just a day before the Senate Finance Committee, the last of five congressional panels with jurisdiction, was scheduled to vote on a bill. Most of Washington interpreted the report as an effort to delay, if not derail, the reform debate--which it almost surely was.
Ten years from now, if health care reform is a boondoggle, you might be able to trace that failure back to a decision in the wee hours of last week's Senate Finance Committee hearings. It happened on Thursday night, just before midnight, when John Kerry put forward an amendment. It was amendment C-8: "Empowering State Exchanges to be Prudent Purchasers." The title may sound innocuous, if a bit arcane.
We’ve heard Glenn Beck’s rants on Fox and read Sarah Palin’s posts on Facebook. We’ve watched LaRouche supporters disrupt town hall meetings and seen teabaggers descend upon Washington. We’ve talked about immigrants, abortion, and death panels--and listened to a woman named Betsy McCaughey explain why reform will mean pulling the plug on grandma. But, at the end of the day, the central challenge in crafting health care reform remains exactly what it’s always been: Coming up with the money to pay for it.
Republicans have a message for America’s senior citizens: President Barack Obama and the Democrats want to take away your health care. And if the polls are right, America’s seniors believe it. For a while now, people over 65 have been skeptical about Democratic reforms. Although the skepticism reflects some broader political feelings--seniors have always been a tough political audience for Obama--it also reflects a seemingly fair judgment about the policies Obama has put forward.
The pundits are busy filing their reports on how President Obama blew it on health care reform. And while the health care fight is far from over--I remain convinced the Democrats will pass a bill, maybe even a good one--the pundits have a point. Obama surely has made mistakes, among them focusing so heavily on how reform would reduce the cost of medicine.
Twice during Wednesday night's press conference, reporters asked President Obama what sacrifices his health care reform plans would ask of the American people. It's a common and intuitive question: in order to give the public something--like a guarantee of health insurance that they can afford--the public has to give something up. Of course, it hasn't always worked that way in practice, like in the Bush years. But just because the last guy in the White House didn't demand the American people to pay for some policies doesn't mean the new guy should.
One of the more promising signs for health care reform over the past two years has been the apparent support of the business community. Corporate executives and trade groups have repeatedly spoken out about the problems of our health care system. Even more remarkably, they have joined coalitions pledged to finding comprehensive solutions--the sorts of plans that would bring affordable insurance to all Americans while easing the financial burden many companies now face.