What Obama Should Say on Health Care

Since Scott Brown’s upset in Massachusetts stripped Democrats of their filibuster-proof 60-vote supermajority, there has been much speculation about the fate of Obamacare and how Mr. Obama will address his flagship issue in the upcoming State of the Union address. There are multiple ways the Left could continue to shove this increasingly unpopular program down the public’s throat, if they chose to do so, including reconciliation in the Senate; offering a few well-placed earmarks to House members on the fence to pass the Senate bill; or sending Obamacare for its latest rebranding.

Tonight’s speech will be telling. No doubt it will set the tone the administration will pursue until the midterm elections. We will find out tonight once and for all whether Team Obama has any intention of listening to the American people. If a crucial Senate loss in the so-called bluest of blue states does not open up Mr. Obama’s eyes, then it is safe to say nothing will. Early indications suggest he is sticking to his guns.

Mr. Obama should not entirely ditch health-care reform, but the administration absolutely should start over. What better place to announce a change of heart than the State of the Union? The public does want reform, just not Mr. Obama’s radical prescription which would only exacerbate current shortcomings. Our country boasts the world’s premier health-care system. People come from all over the globe to seek treatment in the United States. Additionally, most people have insurance and like the coverage they have. However, the system certainly could be tweaked to lower costs and improve access.

In tonight’s speech, Mr. Obama should avoid unveiling a new slogan or a shinier version of the same defective product. The marketer-in-chief has tried this time after time, but the American people have not been fooled by these reincarnations. Rather than changing the spin, Mr. Obama should change the substance.

Mr. Obama should talk about letting insurance companies compete across state lines. Liberals have advocated for competition in the form of a public plan, but this country does not need a new bureaucracy to promote competition. Thirteen-hundred insurance companies already exist coast to coast, and, ironically, it is actually the government which hinders competition. Current statute prevents interstate competition, forcing people to buy health insurance licensed in their own state, thereby purchasing plans with pricey mandates consumers do not necessarily need or want. Customers can purchase life-insurance and car-insurance policies across state lines. Why is health insurance different?

Portability is another element of reform that is cost-effective and will not add to the deficit.

Mr. Obama should also speak about tort reform. Frivolous lawsuits spurred by jackpot justice lead to escalating medical-malpractice premiums forcing many doctors, especially those in high-risk fields, to either retire or relocate. Patients ultimately end up paying an inflated price. Additionally, the threat of lawsuits forces physicians to order superfluous tests, procedures, and specialty consults that patients may not need simply to prevent lawsuits. It is estimated that this common practice, known as defensive medicine, wastes between 100 and 200 billion dollars annually. Tort reform could rectify these problems.

Mr. Obama has paid lip service to bipartisanship for the past year. A logical person would think last week’s shocker might bring his arrogant “I won, you lost” attitude back down to this galaxy and force him to genuinely reach over to the other side of the aisle and start over. If he actually cares about improving the health-care system, as opposed to simply expanding a political constituency, Mr. Obama will change more than the packaging of Obamacare. These proposals in this forum would be a great place to start. These commonsense reforms would make a good system even better and, more importantly, they would lower costs and expand access without rolling the dice and upending the entire health care system. Of course, what Mr. Obama should say, could say, and will say are all quite different. I certainly would not hold my breath.

— Jason Fodeman, M.D., is an internal medicine resident at the University of Connecticut. A former health-policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation, he is the author of How to Destroy a Village: What the Clintons Taught a Seventeen Year Old.

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