One hundred years after Theodore Roosevelt first proposed reforms to the healthcare system, President Barack Obama offered up a few more details on his $900 billion initiative in a speech before Congress last night, but despite a few concessions offered to conservative opponents met with stiff partisan opposition.
In fact, in one case, a Republican Congressman called him an out-an-out liar.
The emotional address, which featured quotes from a deathbed letter sent to Obama after Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death late last month, explained the rationale behind the push for reform and offered details on how it would be implement and paid for.
Obama’s plan, which he said would cost $900 billion over 10 years, would:
• Allow people with health insurance would keep their current plans if they like them;
• Make it illegal for insurers to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions or to drop or reduce coverage after illness strikes;
• Forbid insurers from capping coverage;
• Limit out-of-pocket expenses;
• Require insurers to cover routine checkups and preventive care;
• Create a new “insurance exchange” in 2013 for people and businesses without insurance to shop for competitive coverage;
• Offer need-based tax credits for individuals and employers that can’t afford the lower-priced exchange coverage;
• Cover people denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions low-cost insurance until the exchange is created;
• Require individuals to carry basic health insurance (except those unable to afford it);
• Require businesses either to offer health plans or pay a fee (except the roughly 95 percent of small businesses that couldn’t afford to);
• Create a non-profit public option ifor the uninsured (which, he said, only an estimated 5 percent of Americans would use);
• Be “budget-neutral,” not adding to the federal deficit;
• Require spending cuts if proposed savings don’t materialize.
Most of those savings would come “by finding savings within the existing healthcare system – a system that is currently full of waste and abuse,” Obama said. “Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan.”
Much of the rest of the cost reductions would come from “the very same drug and insurance companies that stand to benefit from tens of millions of new customers,” Obama said. “This reform will charge insurance companies a fee for their most expensive policies, which will encourage them to provide greater value for the money.”
And he had one other proposal outside of the healthcare reform initiative: medical malpractice reform. Obama said he would issue an executive order allowing states to set up up pilot programs to test arbitration and mediation alternatives to malpractice lawsuits.
Obama also refuted persistent and untrue claims that his plan would set up “death panels” to decide whether elderly patients live or die.
“Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple,” he said.
But he himself was called a liar a short time later, when he said his plan would not insure illegal immigrants.
At that point, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted out “You lie!” Wilson later issue an apology and was ,a href=”http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=8533721″>taken to the woodshed by legislators from both sides of the aisle for his intemperate remark.
The incident highlights the strong emotions the issue evokes both from reform proponents and opponents. In one fo the more emotional moments of the address, the president read from a letter the late Sen. Kennedy sent to Obama in May, after his brain cancer became terminal, with instructions to open it after his death.
“In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were, thanks to the love and support of family and friends,” the president said. “And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform – ‘that great unfinished business of our society,’ he called it – would finally pass.
“‘What we face,’ he wrote, ‘is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.'”
Citing Kennedy’s close work with Republican lawmakers on other healthcare issues, Obama said the late senator was driven by a desire to improve people’s lives, not liberal partisanship.
“Ted Kennedy’s passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer,” the president said. “He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick, and he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance — what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent, ‘There is something that could make you better, but I just can’t afford it.'”