Obama still misleading on healthcare reform

In his latest public remarks on the issue, the president repeats a debunked claim


Alex Koppelman
July 15, 2009 9:55PM (UTC)

Democrats' push for healthcare reform legislation is really kicking into high gear now. On Tuesday, House Democrats introduced their proposal. On Wednesday, a Senate committee voted along party lines to approve its latest version of the bill, and later in the day, President Obama spoke from the White House Rose Garden about the need for reform, this time using America's nurses and his own experience with them for a fresh angle on the subject.

"This is a problem we can no longer wait to fix ... and those who would oppose our efforts should take a hard look at just what it is they’re defending," the president said, according to his prepared remarks. "Over the last decade, health insurance premiums have risen three times faster than wages. Deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are skyrocketing. And every single day we wait to act, thousands of Americans lose their insurance, some turning to nurses in the emergency room as their only recourse ....

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"The naysayers and the cynics still doubt we can do this. But it wasn’t too long ago that those same naysayers doubted that we’d be able to make real progress on healthcare reform. And thanks to the work of key committees in Congress, we are now closer to the goal of health reform than we have ever been."

The president also fell back on one of his standard messages about reform, one intended to counter criticism coming from opponents. "I know a lot of Americans who are satisfied with their health care right now are wondering what reform would mean for them. Let me be clear: If you like your doctor or health care provider, you can keep them. If you like your health care plan, you can keep that too," he said.

But that's not really true. Under the current system, private employers can simply decide to change the plans they offer their employees, and the legislation currently under consideration would do nothing to change that. Indeed, if the final legislation includes a public option, that might be more attractive to some employers, who will offer that instead. According to a preliminary analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, about three million people might find themselves moving from private plans to a public exchange, and about six million who'd be covered by an employer-based plan under current law would no longer have that coverage.

Obama has acknowledged this before. At a press conference last month, he conceded, "What I'm saying is the government is not going to make you change plans."

That may be what he means, but it's not what he said on Wednesday, and the subtext isn't likely to be immediately obvious to most people listening to him.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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