The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Obama’s Underwhelming Words on Health Care


Okay, for the first time, I’m somewhat annoyed with Obama. (I know, I know, he’s probably quaking in his boots over that sentence.)

It has to do with his tying his “we must come together and have the audacity of hope” message to the thorny issue of how can Americans get the best health care for their money. 

(Jim’s theories on health care in one paragraph: Remember when doctors made house calls? Even if you’re not old enough to remember it, I’m sure we’ve all see in it old movies and T.V. shows.The doctors of two generations ago brought just about everything they needed in one black bag. The line, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” became the punch-line of a joke, because laymen believed that was a doctor’s advice for just about every ailment. Today a doctor has a lot more than a tongue depressor and stethoscope; they have MRIs, CT scans, pacemakers, heart stents, lasik eye surgery, etc., as well as exponentially more options when it comes to prescription drugs. Unfortunately, these advances cost money, as does the cost of a doctor becoming more specialized in his knowledge, and expanding that area of understanding of ailments and healing. American consumers want 2007 (or beyond) technology at 1956 costs. More specifically, they want somebody else, either the government or their employers, to pay for it. But there is no such thing as a free lunch; sooner or later, someone has to pay the bill; it will always come back to consumers (through businesses), individuals, or taxpayers (when the government picks up the check). Any serious discussion of health care ought to acknowledge that; instead, almost every lawmaker goes to the public and says, “I will promise you the best health care you’ve ever had, and I will get somebody else to pay for it.”)

Anyway – in his most recent address on health care, Obama says the reason you’re not getting spa-quality treatment at rock-bottom prices is that favorite arch-nemesis of his… Partisanship.  


In the 2008 campaign, affordable, universal health care for every single American must not be a question of whether, it must be a question of how. We have the ideas, we have the resources, and we must find the will to pass a plan by the end of the next president’s first term.


I know there’s a cynicism out there about whether this can happen, and there’s reason for it. Every four years, health care plans are offered up in campaigns with great fanfare and promise. But once those campaigns end, the plans collapse under the weight of Washington politics, leaving the rest of America to struggle with skyrocketing costs.


For too long, this debate has been stunted by what I call the smallness of our politics – the idea that there isn’t much we can agree on or do about the major challenges facing our country. And when some try to propose something bold, the interests groups and the partisans treat it like a sporting event, with each side keeping score of who’s up and who’s down, using fear and divisiveness and other cheap tricks to win their argument, even if we lose our solution in the process.


Well we can’t afford another disappointing charade in 2008. It’s not only tiresome, it’s wrong. Wrong when businesses have to layoff one employee because they can’t afford the health care of another. Wrong when a parent cannot take a sick child to the doctor because they cannot afford the bill that comes with it. Wrong when 46 million Americans have no health care at all. In a country that spends more on health care than any other nation on Earth, it’s just wrong.

Now, Obama’s ideas about reducing paperwork and putting all medical records online, they’re great. But as he acknowledges, everyone from Ted Kennedy to Newt Gingrich has been calling for this for years.


(Obama estimates that one out of every four dollars spent on health care is spent on paperwork. That seems high to me, but I’ll take him at his word.)


But beyond that, a more serious debate about health care would recognize there are no silver bullets, no easy answers, no easy way to get more and better health care for less money. Yes, there are incidents of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement, but by and large you get what you pay for with health care. It costs a lot to train a doctor. Doctors want to make a good living (as their job requires enormous amounts of education and training). The equipment is expensive, as it gets more advanced. As the Baby Boomers age, they’re going to want more treatment; demand will outpace supply, and we know what that does to costs. Our society also has reached a point where we medicate a lot of problems that we didn’t used to – anxiety, depression, ADD, etc. It used to be, “that guy’s got bad nerves, that gal’s always been morose, and the kid’s hyper.” (This not to say we shouldn’t medicate these problems, but that we should realize this costs money.)


Instead, Obama offers one paragraph of the usual somebody’s-making-too-much-money argument:

Another, more controversial area we need to look at is how much of our health care spending is going toward the record-breaking profits earned by the drug and health care industry. It’s perfectly understandable for a corporation to try and make a profit, but when those profits are soaring higher and higher each year while millions lose their coverage and premiums skyrocket, we have a responsibility to ask why.

Hey, kids! Who wants to go into the exciting field of medical research, when the government has decided the maximum level of profit you’re allowed to make on what you produce? Remember, while you may look at other professions and fields and envy their ability to have more take home pay, you’ll be getting bonuses in the imporant category of feeling good about yourself! It more than makes up for the fact that you will only be able to make a certain level of money off what you do! And investors – don’t miss this opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an industry where your maximum possible dividend will be predetermined by federal regulators!

I liked this section:

My colleague, Senator Ron Wyden, who’s recently developed a bold new health care plan of his own, tells it this way: For the money Americans spent on health care last year, we could have hired a group of skilled physicians, paid each one of them $200,000 to care for just seven families, and guaranteed every single American quality, affordable health care.

I stand corrected, there is a silver-bullet solution. All we have to do is deploy the National Guard, round up all the doctors, and force them into the National Each-Doctor-Cares-For-Seven-Families System.

Also notice, “We have the ideas, we have the resources, and we must find the will to pass a plan by the end of the next president’s first term” – in other words, “don’t expect anything from me before 2012.”

With this start, it’s easy to wonder if Partisanship is going to be the Great Bogeyman of the Obama campaign, responsible for everything from high cost of health insurance, declining housing prices, traffic, bad weather, the common cold, male pattern baldness, and the awful state of prime-time television lately.

Tags: Barack Obama , Bill Richardson , Chris Dodd , Fred Thompson , Hillary Clinton , Horserace , Joe Biden , John Edwards , John McCain , Mike Huckabee , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rudy Giuliani , Sarah Palin , Something Lighter , Tommy Thompson


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