Obama, Health Insurers Clash On Public Plan
"President Obama made a detailed case on Tuesday for a new government-administered health insurance plan, but he did not rule out signing a bill that lacks such an option if he cannot win enough support from Democrats in Congress," The New York Times reports. "In a White House news conference, Mr. Obama dismissed as 'not logical' the suggestion that a public plan, which is intended to create more competition and therefore act as a brake on the rise of health insurance costs, would undermine the private insurance market. He argued that a government-run plan competing with private insurers would be an 'important tool to discipline insurance companies' and scoffed at complaints that it could drive some out of business."
Just hours before the President's news conference, the insurance industry "fired off a new broadside against proposals for a public insurance plan" with a letter to the Senate which said "Regardless of how it is initially structured, a government plan would use its built-in advantages to take over the health insurance market." When asked whether he would sign a bill without a public plan, Obama said "It's too early to say that. Right now, I will say that our position is that a public plan makes sense" (Zeleny and Pear, 6/23).
USA Today adds that "the back-and-forth represented a potential setback for Obama's goal of overhauling the nation's health care system - something insurers helped to scuttle 15 years ago under President Clinton with their national "Harry and Louise" advertising campaign." "Tuesday's sparring was some of the most direct in a year that began with bipartisan 'summits' at the White House" (Wolf and Jackson, 6/24).
In an interview with ABC News, President Obama acknowledged that "his thinking on the issue [of health care] has 'evolved.' He "says he could support a law mandating that individuals purchase health care coverage, with fines for those who do not, but he stressed that there must be some kind of waiver for those who are simply unable to afford it." During the campaign, Obama opposed individual mandates.
"Obama would not say if he was open to taxing health benefits, but indicated that there was a breaking point in the balance sheets where he would say that the cost of reforming the system is too great for the federal government to handle. 'I think that if any reform that we get is not driving down costs in a serious way ... if people say, 'We're just going to add more people onto a hugely inefficient system,' then I will say no. Because -- we can't afford it,' he said." ABC will air a special on health care tonight at 10 p.m. (Sawyer, 6/24).
In other news, "A group that helped elect President Barack Obama is building a database of complaints from Americans about health care to help him push through an overhaul," The Wall Street Journal reports. "The strategy will test whether Organizing for America, an arm of the Democratic National Committee, can extend its influence beyond the election." The "story bank" is "an online collection of short stories people submitted chronicling their frustrations with American health care. It has organized the stories geographically, plotting them on a Google map, and is encouraging supporters to tell others the stories as a way of building support for the president's effort to provide near-universal health coverage and cut medical costs" (Adamy, 6/23).
Today, Obama will "meet with a bipartisan group of governors who co-hosted regional forums on health reform earlier this year. They include Democrats Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Jim Doyle of Wisconsin and Christine Gregoire of Washington, and Republicans Jim Douglas of Vermont and Mike Rounds of South Dakota," the Associated Press reports (6/24).