KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obama Pitches Health Reform To Public And Congress, Argues Inaction Is Unacceptable

"With many Americans growing anxious about his plans to overhaul the nation's healthcare system, President Obama on Wednesday sought to lay out in personal terms how they stand to gain from the legislation that he has made one of the top goals of his presidency," the Los Angeles Times reports. He used the speech to reach out to people who already have insurance, arguing that skyrocketing costs must be slowed and that inaction would hobble businesses and families alike. In making the case for health reform to the American public, however, Obama described specific policy ideas and "relied on jargon that Washington insiders embrace but that might leave the typical television viewer mystified" (Nicholas, Parsons and Levey, 7/23).

The New York Times: Obama "said for the first time that he would be willing to help pay for the plan by raising income taxes on families earning more than $1 million a year. 'If I see a proposal that is primarily funded through taxing middle-class families, I'm going to be opposed to that,' Mr. Obama said in a prime-time news conference in the East Room of the White House. A surcharge on the highest-income Americans, under consideration in the House, 'meets my principle,' he said." 
The current health system amounts to a plan "guaranteed to double your… costs over the next ten years," according to the president, and added he couldn't promise the reforms - meant largely to focus on payment - wouldn't change the "delivery system," too.  He said health care was the biggest contributor to the federal deficit, and signaled that he was open to a plan to tax employer-sponsored health benefits(Stolberg and Zeleny, 7/22).

"Convincing Americans -- and by extension Congress -- of the value of reform is pivotal to the fate of Obama's broader domestic agenda," according to a Washington Post analysis. "Defeat would be a substantial political setback, not unlike the one President Bill Clinton suffered in 1993, when his failure to remake the health-care system caused him to shrink his ambitions." Obama sought to avert that fate by allaying the public's increasing anxieties about the high cost of an overall: "Obama cast retooling the U.S. health-care system as crucial to the nation's economic success. Reform would help rein in the national deficit and rebuild the economy, he argued, in a way that would help middle-class workers, whose wages have stagnated in recent years largely because of spiraling health-care costs" (Fletcher, 7/23).

Also, "Obama underscored the importance of completing work on a plan within weeks and prodded lawmakers not to succumb to political inertia," CQ Politics reports. The reason for the rush, he said, is that without deadlines, "in this town, nothing happens," and that "14,000 Americans will continue" to lose insurance each day without an overhaul (Bettelheim, 7/23).

The New York Times reports in a second story that, despite "great fluency" in the details of health policy, experts were already disputing some of the president's points. In an attempt to stress bipartisanship in conceiving the bills, he said the Senate health committee had adopted 160 Republican amendments. But Republicans say many of the amendments were technical, and didn't affect the "fundamental features" of the overhaul. He also touted support from as doctors, hospitals, nurses and pharmaceutical manufacturers. But, at least six state medical societies oppose the bills, and the American Hospital Assocation a hospital association has "urged" members to lobby against his plan to hold down Medicare costs (Pear and Baker, 7/22).

NPR: "The president said that two-thirds of his overhaul plan could be paid for by redirecting tax dollars already being spent. 'The remaining one-third is what the argument has been of late,' he said." NPR talked with Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., about the president's remarks (7/22).

Politico points out that Obama came up with a new term Wednesday, "health insurance reform," to replace "health care reform." The substitution "redirects" his message to Americans who already have insurance in an effort to show how they will benefit from the overhaul, too (Frates, 7/22).

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