At a critical moment in the tense health care debate — when the U.S. House and Senate are scrambling to forge compromise reform plans that might be passed before the Congress embarks upon its traditional August recess — President Obama is retooling his health-care reform message.
Instead of the bold rhetoric of last year’s campaign, or even of last month’s press conferences, the president is now pitching reform as more of a consumer-protection gambit.
“No one is talking about some government takeover of health care,” Obama explained to the crowd at his latest town hall meeting in North Carolina on Wednesday.
Rather, the president argued that his reform vision would make insurance companies more responsible.
“We have a system today that works well for the insurance industry, but it doesn’t always work well for you,” Obama told 2,000 people gathered in a Raleigh high school gymnasium. “What we need, and what we will have when we pass these reforms, are health insurance consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and insurance companies are held accountable.”
Obama wants to do this by:
* requiring insurers to set annual caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses,
* requiring insurers to fully cover routine tests to help prevent illness,
* requiring insurers to renew any policy as long as the policyholder paid the premium in full,
* barring insurers from refusing coverage because of pre-existing conditions, scaling back insurance for people who fall very ill, charging more for services based on gender and/or placing limits on coverage,
* barring insurers from denying children family coverage through age 26.
These are pretty good ideas.
Unfortunately, they tinker around the issue of affordability — the great challenge for tens of millions of Americans who have access to health care but lack the resources to pay for the coverage they need.
For those who would seek to control costs in a responsible manner, the dangerous trend in the health-care debate at this point is toward schemes that would see the federal government providing money to low-income families so that they can buy care from high-income insurance companies.
That’s nothing more than a giveaway to insurance companies. And it will not control costs.