President Obama details health reform principles

On the heels of President Obama’s speech to Congress on health reform this week, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes stated that the administration has learned some important lessons about that issue coming out of the August congressional recess.

“The real lesson learned from August is that the American people don’t want the status quo,” Barnes said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “It’s no longer acceptable.”

Barnes explained that President Obama, in his Wednesday, September 9 speech, made a clear case for three basic health reform principles. He wants to pass a reform bill that ensures Americans who are satisfied with their health insurance now will have stable and secure coverage. In addition, the president wants to sign a bill that provides affordable coverage for the nearly 50 million Americans who have no insurance now and that puts measures in place to “control the unsustainable cost of medical care.”

Experts at the Center for American Progress Action Fund estimate that without reform, health care costs could grow by as much as 70 percent for the typical family in just the next 10 years alone.

Under the current broken system, some 12.6 million Americans have been denied coverage by insurance companies because of preexisting conditions. About 14,000 people lose their insurance coverage each day.

In many states, just one, two or three insurance companies hold virtual monopolies over the private health insurance market, setting prices and controlling standards.

About 13 million American workers are employed in small businesses who cannot afford to provide employment-based insurance. A government study this summer revealed that small business owners pay up to 18 percent more for employment-based insurance coverage than larger businesses.

Women typically pay higher premiums than men.

More than 60 percent of bankruptcies in the US have been linked directly to high medical costs.

According to the White House website, President Obama’s plan for reform would address these issues in a number of important ways.

The plan would create an “insurance exchange,” or virtual marketplace, which everyone could access regardless of their location or job situation. This exchange would eliminate virtual state-based monopolies by providing people with more choices of plans and policies, including the choice of enrolling in a public insurance program.

In addition, small businesses and lower- and middle-income families and individuals who struggle to pay premiums would get subsidies and tax credits to help them afford premiums.

The president’s plan would eliminate harmful insurance company policies like denying coverage based on “preexisting conditions” and gender-based discrimination.

In addition, the plan would cap out-of-pocket expenses so that individuals or families do not have to enter bankruptcy just to keep their loved ones alive.

The plan also protects Medicare coverage for retirees by improving quality of care and eliminating privatized plans that add tens of billions in costs each year without providing any additional benefits for Medicare recipients. The plan would also close the so-called “donut hole” in coverage that forces many middle-income retirees to pay higher out-of-pocket expenses.

Following the President’s speech this week, 13 doctors and medical professional organizations authored a joint letter endorsing President Obama’s health reform goals. Signed by the American Medical Student Association, the American Osteopathic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, CIR/Doctors Council/National Doctors Alliance/SEIU, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the National Medical Association, the National Physicians Alliance, the Society of General Internal Medicine, and Doctors for America, the letter expressed a strong commitment to work with the President and Congress for reform this year.

“Strong and effective health care reform passed in 2009 will mean we can begin to fix our broken health care system. Our patients, adults and children alike, cannot wait any longer for reform,” the letter read.



Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.