Obama’s new health-care argument: A primer

Jon Ward Contributor
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President Obama promised Wednesday to do everything in his power to persuade the country in the next few weeks that the Congress should pass a health-care bill, even if Democrats use reconciliation to get it done.

In his speech, the president previewed the case he’ll be making as he goes to Philadelphia on Monday and to St. Louis on Wednesday. Here are four of the core points to Obama’s argument about his health-care proposal:

1. It’s not a government takeover of health care
Obama said “government-run health care” would be “neither practical nor realistic.” Democrats argue that with a “public option” off the table, there is no argument to be made that their plan increases government control of the health-care sector, and Obama said his plan would “give the American people more control over their own health insurance.”

Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, used the phrase “government takeover” at least five times in a TV interview immediately after the president’s speech. Obama’s proposal would require all Americans to have health insurance and would give the federal government regulatory powers to determine what constitutes a qualified plan. The government would also have the power to set prices for insurers. Republicans also point to what they say are 159 government “boards, commissions and programs” that would be created by the Senate bill.

2. Republicans are ideologically committed to protecting health insurance companies, but he wants to protect Americans from the industry
Obama has been making this point since hosting last week’s health-care summit. It’s a stretch to say Republicans are ideologically committed to the insurance industry, since most Republicans are ideologically committed to limiting the power of government – the application of that ideology does mean that many Republicans oppose regulation they consider burdensome. But it’s a rhetorical shortcut that gives the president an effective point of attack.

“Republicans in Congress … believe the answer is to loosen regulations on the insurance industry,” he said.” I’m concerned that this would only give the insurance industry even freer rein to raise premiums and deny care.”

He argued that he will give more control of health care companies to Americans “by holding insurance companies more accountable.”

Republicans say they have their own ideas on how to protect consumers from health care insurance abuse.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, said their plan “establishes universal access programs to guarantee access to affordable health care for those with pre-existing conditions.”

“Our plan also prohibits an insurer from canceling a policy unless a person commits fraud or conceals material facts about a health condition,” Smith said.

3. His plan reduces premiums for Americans

“My proposal would bring down the cost of health care for millions,” Obama said. “We have now incorporated most of the serious ideas from across the political spectrum about how to contain the rising cost of health care.”

Democrats argue that while rates would go up, subsidies paid by the government to many Americans would reduce the actual amount they would be paying out of their pocket. Republicans counter that this is not reducing costs, but rather will require an increase in taxes to transfer more money from some Americans to others to pay higher premiums.

4. His plan reduces the federal budget deficit
“The bottom line is, our proposal is paid for,” Obama said.

The president’s proposal has not been released in legislative language, so there is no way for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to verify the president’s claim.

As for the Senate bill, CBO said in December that the Senate bill would reduce the deficit by $132 billion during the first 10 years.

Republicans points to statistics from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid, that said the bill would increase expenditures over the first decade by $222 billion.

Republicans such as Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, say Democrats have written the bill in a way that double counts almost half a trillion in savings that will be spent on a new program. The actual addition to the deficit, he says, will be $460 billion.