Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The President's Town Hall Meeting

The president appears to be taking a new tack in his effort to make the case for healthcare reform. I watched his town hall meeting from New Hampshire today. He made all the right arguments. He focused on the personal stories of individual Americans who had suffered in the present system. He defused the lies and rumors… death panels, and such. I always get a chuckle when I hear people rant against “government healthcare” while insisting that the government not “mess with their Medicare.” But, most importantly he responded to the reasonable concerns that people have about healthcare reform. For example, one man suggested that a public option would inevitably kill private insurance companies, since “no company could compete with the government.” President Obama’s deft reply was that Federal Express and UPS are able to compete effectively against the US Postal Service, and in fact it is the USPS that has the constant financial problems. Another man asked about tax increases. The President pointed out that the previous administration (self-defined as fiscally conservative) added a new pharmaceutical benefit to the Medicare program without figuring out how to pay for it. Many of the same members of congress who now express concern about costs of healthcare reform voted to create this new benefit even in the face of massive income tax cuts, two wars, and a mounting budget deficit. My only quibble with the President’s message is on the cost issue. If you provide care to 47-50 million people who currently don’t have access to care, you are going to have to pay for it, and there are only three possibilities. (1) Increase revenue by raising taxes, fees or some other device; (2) cut services somewhere else in the budget; (3) add the costs to the deficit. None of these are pleasant options. However, in the end one of these things will have to be done.