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by Archives September 8, 2009

When President Obama addresses the nation to discuss health care on Wednesday, he must make a clear and concise case for reform. Obama has consistently ranked health care reform among his top priorities. During the 2008 campaign he stressed that fixing America’s broken health care system was something that could not be put off, often alluding to the millions of Americans without coverage, and the story of his own mother’s battle with cancer.
According to Obama, the status quo is flawed in three ways.
First, not everyone has insurance. Approximately 45 million Americans have no form of coverage whatsoever. That is to say there are significantly more uninsured Americans than there are people living in Canada. Without insurance, health care can be prohibitively expensive. Many uninsured Americans do everything in their power to avoid a trip to the doctor’s office, even if it means doing their own stitches.
The second problem is that many people are insured through their employers. According to a Time magazine poll, 53 per cent of Americans get health benefits from their jobs, but it is no longer the norm for a person to stay with one employer from the beginning of their career to the end. Many people are forced to change insurance companies when they get a new job. This can lead to problems; if an insurance company deems an ailment to have been caused by a preexisting condition, they may refuse to cover treatment.
The third problem Obama wants to fix is the way insurance companies are regulated. In America, health insurance is regulated on a state-by-state basis, which creates two problems. First, depending on which state you live in you might get a better or worse deal than in the next state over. Second, if you move to another state, you often have to leave your health coverage behind, which creates the same snags as the employer coverage issue. By creating a national regulatory framework, the president contends, countrywide competition would bring down prices and people would be able to keep their insurance no matter where they ended up.
But Obama has found resistance to his reform initiatives, both in congress and in the country at large. And the opposition isn’t only coming from Republicans. Many centrist, blue dog, Democrats are hesitant about the prospect of reform. “The Democrats are not united on this issue,” said John Parisella who writes about American politics for Macleans.ca. “There are concerns that now isn’t the right time, with the deficit and the shape of the economy.”
Fissures in Obama’s party have only made life easier for Republicans, who are speaking with one voice. “Obama has to give them something, he has to be able to get a few Republican votes to make the hold outs look like resisters,” said Parisella. “But that could mean abandoning the government run insurance plan that many in his party desire.”
Over the summer, the debate spun completely out of control. Commentators and legislators of all stripes and ribbons are to blame. Health care reform is a subject that should be debated honestly and responsibly, instead people are arguing about the spectre of a socialist government run system where government “death panels” choose who gets treatment and who is left to die.
If Obama’s bid at reform is to be successful, he must speak frankly with the American people this Wednesday. “He’s got to come through with more specifics, he has to lay out a comprehensive plan, this could very well be a defining moment in his Presidency.”
Indeed, whether he succeeds or not will have a huge impact in the short and long term. Congressional midterm elections are just over a year away, American voters can take away the Democrats solid majorities just as easily as they gave them. This Wednesday, he will have his platform and needs to use it effectively, as he has in the past. Now is not the time for complexity, if the president hopes to succeed he will have to speak in plain terms.
As much as failure would hurt Obama, success would give him a tremendous boost. “If they go into 2010 with nothing to show for their efforts, they’ll bring out the protest vote. But if they have a solid bill that people like by Christmas it could mean a bright future for Obama and the Democrats,” said Parisella. “A start would be to work with the framework that already exists by extending Medicare, and make health insurance mandatory to try achieve universal coverage.” By moving slowly at first he can build a foundation for the future.

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