“I’m not in favor of death,” said President Obama during New Hampshire’s Health Care Town Hall Meeting. That he had to say it speaks volumes about the misunderstandings and misconceptions of the hotly debated health care reform bills currently working their way through Congress.
The false rumor that the House of Representatives voted for death panels that will pull the plug on the elderly because it’s too expensive to let them live, or variations around that theme, arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allows Medicare to reimburse seniors for consultations for end-of-life care. There is nothing in the bill that speaks to forcing such consultations, or forcing anyone to choose death. There are no death panels, no death squads, no Nazi death marches involved. No, none of the bills favors enforced death.
The President also addressed another hot button issue — Medicare. Many seniors are worried that their Medicare benefits will be slashed. Instead of slashing benefits, the goal is to eliminate insurance subsidies (insurance companies get billions of dollars of taxpayer money for services Medicare already provides right now) and work with hospitals’ reimbursement practices in order to be more efficient and save money. That exactly why the AARP has endorsed reform and made it a priority.
What about the public option? There is some confusion about a universal plan versus a single-payer plan. A single-payer plan would be like Medicare for all — similar to Canada’s system, in which the government is the only entity that pays for all health care, and all citizens are covered. That’s not currently in play.
A universal plan is one which offers every single person insurance at an affordable price. Those happy with their employer-based coverage or private insurance plans would be able to keep them. Those who do not have such plans, or are not satisfied with their plans, would be able to buy from a public plan or exchange, a big pool of private companies, which will drive down costs. It’s a viable option for small businesses and individuals who do not have access to affordable coverage.
Universal coverage in this case won’t amount to 100 percent coverage, though. Estimates are that under the plans currently in Congress, 37 – 38 million additional Americans will be covered — considerably less than the estimated 46 million uninsured.
President Obama acknowledged that tensions are high. “I recognize there is an underlying fear that people won’t get the care they need.” That’s exactly why there is a need for comprehensive reform.
Saying that he “won’t sign a bill that adds to the deficit or the national debt,” the President noted that 2/3 of the expense would be covered by eliminating the inefficiencies we now endure and that different ideas regarding funding are still being explored in Congress.
A self-described skeptic asked why the President has not used his bully pulpit to chastise congress — after all, they have one health care system for themselves, and another for the rest of us. Obama responded that if we don’t tackle reform, that gap will only get bigger. The goal is that all Americans have the same kinds of options as Congress. That’s what the health care exchange is all about.
And one more time… there are no “death panels.”