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President Obama, The Healthcare Summit and Public Support

ObamaIn case you hadn’t noticed, the president has turned his attention to solving the nation’s “health care crisis” and is eyeing a number of different reform proposals.

After signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), President Obama hosted a Health Care Summit at the White House to bring together reps from business and labor, insurers and drugmakers and supporters of single-payer health insurance (only after a petition campaign from those who support single-payer).

Participants were separated into groups to discuss possible plans, and then met with the president at the end of the day to present the ideas.

Critics were angry that the White House did not release the guest list for the Summit ahead of time, and that single-payer supporters had to lobby intensely to be invited.  Many called the event largely symbolic, and we have to agree: The Health Care Summit was a good way to advertise the president’s interest in health care reform, but the legislative details and hard decisions must now be worked out over the weeks and months ahead.

That said, we’re excited about the movement on this issue.

According to this Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll, health care reform couldn’t be coming at a better time.

Why?

Due to the recession, Americans are skimping on medical care:

  • Slightly more than half of Americans (53%) say their household has cut back on care due to cost concerns in the past 12 months;
  • 27% have put off healthcare they needed;
  • One in five (21%) have not filled a prescription; and
  • One in six (15%) say they have cut pills to make them last longer.

Not everyone can delay the care they need, and the bills are piling up:

  • One in five respondents (19%) reported serious financial problems recently due to medical bills, and
  • 13% said they have used up all or most of their savings in the past 12 months trying to pay for their medical care.

The recession is also changing people’s attitudes about health care.

Folks are anxious about the cost of care:

  • Nearly half (45%) said they are “very” worried about having to pay more for their health insurance or care.
  • One-third of insured respondents are worried that they will lose their coverage during the recession.

There is increased public support for major reforms, but survey respondents are maybe too optimistic about how easily such change can happen:

  • The public ranks health care fourth in terms of policy priorities for Congress and the President.
  • 58% of Americans believe that if policymakers put the right changes into place, they could reform health care “without spending more money to do it.”

Already, it looks likely that significant up-front funding will be necessary to put any major reforms into place that will have long-term savings.

As we mentioned before, President Obama requested a down payment of $634 billion for healthcare in his budget, to be funded through a reversal of the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy and other reforms.

To be clear, this amount is only estimated to be one-third to one-half of the total sum needed to provide universal coverage, and to implement some of the other reform initiatives, like putting into place a health information technology (HIT) system.

And the president has only laid out general guidelines for how to go about securing the money.  It will be up to Congress to figure out the funding and legislative details.

The devil is in the details:

  • There are rumors that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are considering taxing the currently tax-exempt employer-sponsored health benefits to help pay for universal coverage (rather than reverse the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest 2% of Americans).
  • President Obama campaigned against such a plan during the fall, but now is said to be considering the option.
    • We have to ask, would taxing employer-sponsored benefits erode public support for health care reform?
    • Would many more people be unable to afford their employer-sponsored coverage as a result?
    • Would employers decide to stop paying for employee health care?

Coming up, we’ll take a look at the recommendations of the Commonwealth Fund and the Congressional Budget Office to see which reform plan is most likely to increase coverage, reduce costs and give us the most bang for the buck.

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