Health Care on the Horizon

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on November 17, 2009, at

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President-elect Barack Obama made health care reform a central tenant of his campaign.  The fact that so many Americans are not covered and that coverage is so costly for those who are, brought the public together behind Obama’s call for change.

Recent polls confirm a substantial consensus for government action on health care.

Ninety-two percent of Obama supporters, 88 percent of undecided voters, and 57 percent of McCain supporters in an August 2008 poll, recognized that the government bears some responsibility for the health care of its citizens.  This may not be a call for nationalized health care as was toyed with during the Clinton administration, but it does signal government involvement in a health care solution will be welcomed. 69 percent of respondents also said the government was “doing a poor job” ensuring basic health care needs are met.

Obama’s proposals, voiced prominently during the campaign, call for federal regulation of insurers andpublic spending to help uninsured Americans obtain coverage.  Keys to any new legislation are likely to be mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions, tax credits for small businesses that insure their employees, fees for large corporations who don’t, coverage of all children and subsidies for those that need help with premiums.

Obama estimated the costs of reform to be $50-65 billion and suggested that a repeal of Bush tax cuts for upper income Americans would offset increased spending in the federal budget.

The real question now is what shape health care reform will take in light of the financial crisis. President-elect Obama has put economic recovery at the top of his agenda and hinted that other issues will be considered in this light.

The concern on health care reform is that tax increases for the wealthy and for some businesses could negatively impact economic growth.  With economic indicators bleak, and all eyes on fiscal stimulus, the country can ill-afford to burden any segment of the economy.

Health care policy experts are speculating on a limited phase-in of reforms, with insurance for children touted as a first step. Longtime advocates for reform, such as Senator Ted Kennedy, are preparing draft legislation in time for inauguration day on January 20th, 2009.

The new president is all about pragmatism, so he will undoubtedly consider any potential harm to the economy before taking action.  However, there is reason to expect progress on health care.

Obama has spoken passionately about health care from the very beginning of his campaign and has stated how crucial it is to improving the lives of middle class Americans.  His own mother faced “preexisting illness” denial-of-coverage issues for treatment of her terminal ovarian cancer.

This President will begin his term with a substantial electoral victory, strong majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives, and public opinion in support of government action.

This is a mandate for change and the power to see it through.

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