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Obama's Health Care Speech to Congress

This took me longer than anticipated to get my response out here partially because I'm trying to be all fancy and make videos and partially because my connection dropped last night and I couldn't connect. /sadpanda

I had to split my video into two parts because of YouTube's rules, but here it is with the text version below.

Theresa and I watched Obama's speech to Congress last night. For the most part, I liked it. Several parts I absolutely loved. There was at least one part that I disliked, which was the mandate to purchase health insurance.

So, I'll start with the part that I disliked. Obama said that his plan require people to purchase health insurance:

Now, even if we provide these affordable options, there may be those - particularly the young and healthy - who still want to take the risk and go without coverage. There may still be companies that refuse to do right by their workers. The problem is, such irresponsible behavior costs all the rest of us money. If there are affordable options and people still don't sign up for health insurance, it means we pay for those people's expensive emergency room visits. If some businesses don't provide workers health care, it forces the rest of us to pick up the tab when their workers get sick, and gives those businesses an unfair advantage over their competitors. And unless everybody does their part, many of the insurance reforms we seek - especially requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions - just can't be achieved.

That's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance - just as most states require you to carry auto insurance. Likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still cannot afford coverage, and 95% of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements. But we cannot have large businesses and individuals who can afford coverage game the system by avoiding responsibility to themselves or their employees. Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part.

First, the analogy with auto insurance is similar but not exactly right. The difference is that I can choose not to have auto insurance. I know auto insurance is mandated, but I can choose to not drive. I can ride a bike to work. I can take public transportion. Auto insurance is only mandated if I choose to drive on the roads, so the analogy doesn't hold up with health insurance because my "choosing not to drive on the roads" is equivalent to me dying.

I agree with the premise that those without coverage will still rely on the ER and will get treatment later than they should and therefore cost more to cure.
I'm a fan of a single-payer system which would just inherently cover everyone and everyone would chip in, but this is very different. The problem right now is that the insurance companies are taking advantage of people. Creating a mandate that everyone needs to purchase health insurance just gives them MORE power over us. It doesn't solve the problem. Insurance companies need to be afraid that they are going to lose our business, but if the govt is mandating that we get insurance that gives the insurance companies far too much power. Now, this is tempered by his strong support for a Public Option, which he describes here:

Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable. The insurance reforms that I've already mentioned would do just that. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Let me be clear - it would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance.

I don't like the mandate that we need to purchase insurance, but I will be willing to compromise on this issue IF AND ONLY IF we get a strong Public Option. Without a strong Public Option, the mandate will make the system worse because the corrupt insurance companies won't need to improve their product because why should they? We'll be REQUIRED to buy from them. That's not ok in my opinion. What worries me about this proposal is the possibility that the bill will start as Obama describes it, but the Public Option will be stripped away while the mandate is retained. That possibility would be the worst of all options and that includes the status quo. In my opinion, it would be better to do nothing then it would to mandate purchase of insurance without a public option. Granted, he mentioned that there would be hardship waivers so that if you are simply too poor to buy the insurance that you can be exempted. While that prevents putting undue burden on the poor, the rest of it still gives too much power to the insurance companies which are the very core of problem.

Meh. I'm worried.


Ok, so let's move on to the parts of his speech that I DID like:

One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it. Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, her breast cancer more than doubled in size. That is heart-breaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America.

We are the only advanced democracy on Earth - the only wealthy nation - that allows such hardships for millions of its people.

YES. Thank you. I just don't get it, how people can look at the system we have in place and claim that it is ok or that it is the best health care system in the world. The United States totally rocks your face off in many ways, but when it comes to health care we are embarassingly behind the curve. We, as a nation, have the intellience and the resources to change the way we take care of our people and once again be the best in the world... but do we have the compassion and will to pull it off?

But what we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.

Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

Once again with the applause... unforunately though, only the Democrat side of the House that is standing. Over and over again there were many standing occasions, but very rarely did you see any of the Republicans stand up. Now IS the time for Health Care Reform, but they obviously don't want to play.

Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.

YES. "It is a lie, plain and simple." Thank you. I think the only thing that would have made me happier than that statement would have been "It is a lie and you should be ashamed for spreading it." I was totally stoked when he stepped up and approached these things and called them out. Very very happy about it.

Now, speaking of lying, there was a scandalous moment when he was debunkin the next myth:

There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false - the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

I don't know if you could hear it, to some people it just sounded like Obama was being booed. In the background, twice, there was a person screaming "You lie!" That was Representative Joe Wilson. From the different reports I've heard, there has never been an outburst like this during a Presidential address to Congress.
His future seems a little uncertain. His opponent that's going to be running against him in 2010 used last night's event as a fund raising opportunity and raised $400,000 with a web campaign. That aside, he has already apologized via phone and in writing to the Whitehouse and has been thoroughly castigated by both Republicans and Democrats. So, it was an ugly little moment that shouldn't have happened, but I think everyone responded to it correctly (in calling for his apology and him giving that apology) and we should just ignore it and move on.

Obama continued and had some tough words for asshats who are trying to kill reform based on some twisting principle:

And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution.

YES. I seriously want to see this. I don't want vague statements either. I want Obama to stand up during the Whitehouse Press Briefing and say something like, "Yesterday Senator Whackjob told his constituents that Health Care Reform will require that dingos eat your babies. This is a lie and Senator Whackjob should be ashamed of himself." I'm serious! I want to see it!

Near the end of his speech, he talked about Ted Kennedy and his lifelong pursuit of universal health care. This section of the speech is what I call the "I'm going to punch you in the face" section of the speech.

For some of Ted Kennedy's critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their mind, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government.

But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here - people of both parties - know that what drove him was something more. His friend, Orrin Hatch, knows that. They worked together to provide children with health insurance. His friend John McCain knows that. They worked together on a Patient's Bill of Rights. His friend Chuck Grassley knows that. They worked together to provide health care to children with disabilities.

On the surface, this doesn't seem extreme. However, President Obama called out these specific people (Orrin Hatch, John McCain, Chuck Grassley) because within days of Kennedy's death, these Senators went on political talk shows and said stupid things about Ted Kennedy. Trying to convince Democrats that they should compromise on healthcare (or convince America that Democrats were being unreasonable). And they used Ted Kennedy as an example, saying "If Ted Kennedy was alive, he would be willing to compromise with us Republicans to get some reform passed"... even though they know it's not true. No one was as fierce a proponent of universal health care as Ted Kennedy was in Congress. He had been fighting for decades and he would not be pushed on this issue. Everyone had to have universal health care. In his own words in the letters he wrote just before he died, he said it was the fight of his life and that was the goal he need to get to. In my opinion, this was Obama calling them on the carpet in a very subtle way to tell them "Stop it. That's not ok. It's not true."

One of the great quotes of the speech was in reference to Ted Kennedy's feelings on the topic of health care:

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.

And so that's the central point of this whole health care reform movement. Compassion.

Do we have the compassion to take care of our fellow Americans?

I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road - to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.

But that's not what the moment calls for. That's not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test.

Because that is who we are. That is our calling. That is our character. Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless the United States of America.

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