As President Obama prepares to deliver a Wednesday address to Congress that must reframe the debate about healthcare reform, he is getting plenty of advice and counsel with regard to messaging.
Plenty of folks will tell the president that he cannot change course, that he simply needs to offer a better explanation of what’s on offer.
The fact is that the president must change course.
And the wisest counsel on how to do so has come from New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.
Don’t try to explain the “public option” one more more time.
The cure for what ails a healthcare system that leaves close to 50 million Americans uninsured and at least that many underinsured is not an “option.”
It is genuine change that makes sense to Americans who are anxious and confused about what might be buried in a 1,000-page House bill or, worse yet, in the backroom where Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, D-Montana, is busy bartering away the public interest.
Instead of listening to the White House aides and advisers — and congressional compromisers — who have so ill-served the reform initiative that it is now imperiled, the president should consult a legislator who “gets it.”
That would be New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, the Brooklyn Democrat who has emerged as a smart, steady advocate for a change that is realistic and comprehensible.
“As President Obama prepares to address the nation about his vision for healthcare reform, we should not overlook the last, best truly transformative change to our healthcare system: Medicare,” argues Weiner, who explains that:
During the eleven town hall meetings I’ve held around my district, I’ve had some direct experience with the anxiety this debate has produced. Much of the fear comes from two groups: those who have Medicare and don’t want it changed and those who have never had a government-run reimbursement system like Medicare and are worried about the impact it will have on their quality of care.
In both cases, a calm, reasoned and vigorous defense of the American single-payer plan is just what the doctor ordered.
The truth is that the United States already uses single-payer systems to cover over 47 percent of all medical bills through Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Understanding that these single-payer health programs are already a major part of our overall healthcare system should help us visualize what an actual public plan would look like. These institutions also provide healthcare to millions of satisfied customers in every community who would heartily agree that the government can build and run programs that work quite well.
Weiner is not merely offering Obama and Democratic leaders a practical proposal. He is telling them how to get out of the political corner in which they placed themselves by trying too hard to satisfy Republican legislators and their insurance-industry paymasters.
“Medicare also provides us with a case study in the hypocrisy of our Republican friends who have built their party on a 44-year record of undermining this popular program. And now their Chairman sees no irony in ripping ‘government run’ healthcare while publishing an op-ed opposing changes to Medicare, argues Weiner.
“If Medicare has been such a success, why not extend it? Why not have single-payer plans for 55-year-olds? Why not have one for young citizens who just left their parents or college coverage?”
Weiner is not pulling punches.
He argues, correctly, that the president’s attempts to answer core questions about reform “have simply not been very convincing.”
And the New Yorker suggests that, “The real reason we haven’t seen the Democratic Party embrace the obvious and simpler idea is that it boils down to pure beltway politics. We’ve been reluctant to tackle the real inefficiency in the current system, namely, the very presence of the private insurance companies. Too many in Washington would rather stay friends with the insurance and drug companies when real reform probably can’t be achieved in a way that makes these powerful institutions happy.”
Noting that insurance companies skim 30 percent profits from the current system in order to satisfy shareholders, Weiner says: “Let’s leave it to the Republicans to defend those actions. I, and most Democrats, should not join the chorus that sounds like we care more about insurance companies than taxpayers.
“The same is true for Big Pharma. If Wal-Mart can pool its customers to be able to offer the $4 prescriptions, why shouldn’t the federal government drive the same hard bargain on behalf of the tax payers so they too get the best prices under Medicare? I pose this exact question at every town hall meeting I attend and if my colleagues and the President did the same on Wednesday night, they would mix good policy with good politics. Instead we have watched a puzzling dance as policymakers have effectively limited the savings we would find in the enormous drug expenditures that are a fixture in our current system. Is it any wonder citizens are confused?”
Weiner is offering the president a way to address the confusion and to win the biggest domestic policy battle of his tenure:
I have no delusions about the muscle needed to overcome resistance from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. But I believe that for every American we may lose to a slash-and-burn TV ad funded by these businesses, we will gain five among those who are looking for a clear rationale for what we are trying to accomplish and an example for what it may look like.
We also achieve something else: realignment of the political universe. Democrats understand the role of government and are proud of our signature achievement: Medicare. The Republicans care most about big business.
I’ll take that fight any day. And I’m hoping that the president will tell us on Wednesday that he is willing to do the same.
Anthony Weiner’s right.
This is a fight that Barack Obama can win — not for himself but for the tens of millions of Americans who need healthcare and for the hundreds of millions of Americans who need a better healthcare system.
But he won’t win it by taking advice from George Bush: “stay the course.”
He will win it by taking the wise counsel of Congressman Weiner and offering America what the people understand and want: “Medicare for All.”