President Barack Obama and his administration are preparing to take a stronger hand in shaping comprehensive health care reform in an effort to assure a satisfactory bill can be enacted before the end of the year. The effort got underway this weekend as the the White House took to the air waves, the Internet and mobilized their supporters around the country.
President Obama used his weekly Saturday morning web and radio address to link the need for healthcare reform with his efforts to revive the economy. At the same time, his political organization convened thousands of neighborhood meetings to discuss the issue and begin pressuring Congress to take action.
In his remarks, President Obama made clear he and his Administration would be fully engaged with Congress on fashioning comprehensive health care reform. At the same time, he placed effort in both a historical and economic context. Most significantly, he made clear the time to act is now. “It’s time to deliver,” he said. “And I am absolutely convinced that if we keep working together and living up to our mutual responsibilities; if we place the American people’s interests above the special interests; we will seize this historic opportunity to finally fix what ails our broken health care system, and strengthen our economy and our country now and for decades to come.”
Organizing for America, the political organization that grew out of President Obama’s 2008 campaign claimed “tens of thousands of supporters participated in thousands of events for health care overhaul” according to the Associated Press. While the grass roots meetings were scheduled weeks ago, their timing meshed nicely with the Obama Administration’s need to take firmer control of the health care reform process. While the President had been content to lay out broad principles and let congress fill in the details, that strategy seems to be changing. A member of the “Obama’s team is described by the Associated Press as saying “if the president wants health care overhaul, the White House needs to control what’s being said …” The implication is they also need to control what’s being done.
President Obama made clear in his radio address that, while he welcomes input from both parties and all stakeholders, his is not willing to settle for mere incremental change. He is after substantial reform. “I know that when you bring together disparate groups with differing views, there will be lively debate. And that’s a debate I welcome. But what we can’t welcome is reform that just invests more money in the status quo – reform that throws good money after bad habits.”
Significantly, the President focused most of his prescription for reform on the need to control medical costs. “We must attack the root causes of skyrocketing health care costs. Some of these costs are the result of unwarranted profiteering that has no place in our health care system, and in too many communities, folks are paying higher costs without receiving better care in return.” Citing the examples of institutions “that offer some of the highest quality of care in the nation at some of the lowest costs in the nation” he declared “We should learn from their successes and promote the best practices, not the most expensive ones. That’s how we’ll achieve reform that fixes what doesn’t work, and builds on what does.”
This isn’t to say he didn’t address market reforms, but his emphasis on cutting costs and making reform budget neutral over time are indicative of well placed priorities.
President Obama has some very specific ideas concerning health care reform. Some are sound. Some raise serious concerns. While the President will work hard to prevent his vision from being watered down to blandness, compromises will be required. As I posted on Friday, the Democratic majority is broad and diverse. That’s healthy (you’ll pardon the pun). It also makes negotiations over key provisions of the health care reform plan inevitable.
The need to bring together diverse perspectives won’t make the legislative process easier, even with the Administration’s direct involvement. It may, however, make the final product better.