What Is Obama’s Plan to Reform Health Care?

What is Obama’s plan to reform health care?

President Obama’s top priority is well known — health care reform.

Our last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, made an attempt early in his administration to pass some measure of health care reform, famously championed by First Lady Hilary Clinton. Political pundits say that Clinton made his attempt too soon in his presidency, and a major advertising campaign against health care reform most likely sank Clinton’s chance of achieving what some say is impossible — curing America’s terrible health care troubles.

What exactly does President Obama propose? His plan is similar to Clinton’s, but legislators in Washington are attempting to create a bipartisan compromise that would make health care reform practically impossible to defeat.

While Democrats (and a small contingent of Republicans) in the House of Representatives are pushing a very partisan version of Obama’s health care reform bill, major Senate Democrats are working with Republicans to form a compromise that both parties can accept. The Senate’s health committee isn’t acting too rapidly, as they wait for cost estimates from the office of the Congressional Budget on three different plans for health care reform, all centering on requirements for employers. According to Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut who is temporarily leading the committee during Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s treatment for brain cancer, these plans would require employers to provide health coverage for employees or pay a fee into a “pool” to cover the uninsured. How would these plans satisfy Republicans? All three plans would provide employers tax breaks for providing insurance, and Republicans are generally in favor of tax cuts, especially for business. Also, rather than relying on the Federal government to provide health care for Americans, the compromise plan would leave that coverage up to the individual state’s, another nod to Republicans who favor state government over national control. Another of the compromise approaches would require employers to pay in to the federal treasury to cover employees who are covered under so called “public plans”. Still another scenario for health care reform would require employers who don’t provide their employees with health insurance to pay the government a set amount of money per employee per year.

Part of the problem is the upcoming recess in congressional action — July 4 brings with it a time of rest for members of Congress. Most of these representatives will head to their home districts and will likely face tough questions from their constituents about the planned overhaul of the nation’s troubled health care system.

The aforementioned partisan bill brought up by House Democrats last week is being debated in hearings that began today, Tuesday June 23. This draft of the health care reform legislation, written entirely by Democrats without Republican input, would require all Americans to purchase health insurance, much like we are forced to purchase auto insurance, and would put simialr requirements on employers as the bill being tossed about in the Senate.

The problem in the Senate is simply delay after delay. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee tossed out a deadline that would have forced the Senate to either pass or vote down their version of the bill by the end of the week. According to those responsible for the end of the deadline, the Senate simply won’t have time to get the bill done before the July 4 recess. The most troublesome bits of the bill are those that deal with the introduction of plan to compete with existing coverage from private insurers — also at odds is what requirements employers would have to deal with in order to provide care to their employees.

Making things even more complicated is the question of cost — many initial estimates showed that the Senate plan would cost over $1 trillion over the next 10 years, a number that Senators of both parties are working to bring down. How will the costs drop? According to Senate sources, there will be deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and a slew of taxes to raise money (much to the chagrin of Republicans) along with the possibility of increased fees on employers who won’t provide health coverage for their employees.

President Obama’s goal — to sign a health care reform bill by October of 2009 — was to control costs and provide health coverage to 50 million uninsured Americans. This now appears in serious doubt, though not for lack of trying on his part and on the part of his fellow Democrats.

A compromise is still possible. Among those working for a bipartisan compromise to the health care bill are Republicans Charles Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Olympia Snowe of Maine — the Democrats working on a compromise are Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.