Opinion Brief

Obama's health care 'flexibility': Bipartisan compromise or cynical ploy?

The president backs a plan to let states opt out of his health care law earlier than expected. Is he bowing to pressure or outsmarting his opponents?

President Obama on Monday endorsed a plan that would allow states to opt out of key elements of his health care reform law — including the controversial mandate requiring most people to buy insurance — in 2014 instead of 2017. But to opt out, states would have to prove they can still expand coverage without raising costs. Congress would have to pass new legislation to enact this change, and many Republicans are skeptical. Still, with the health care reform law facing criticism and court challenges, was the president's announcement a concession to opponents — or an attempt to outmaneuver them? (See Obama's comments)

Obama has given himself political leverage: Republicans claim they can come up with a better system by "using some combination of tea party-approved 'free market' principles"— and Obama is calling their "bluff," says Kevin Drum in Mother Jones. Rather than just shouting "Repeal Obamacare!" over and over, conservatives will have to show they can deliver a plan that works in the real world. And even if Republicans don't support the president's proposed change, at least Obama gets to "demonstrate how reasonable he is."
"Obama calls the Republican Healthcare Bluff"

But he's not really being flexible: Obama's proposal "provides a curious form of flexibility: the kind that only bends one way," says Peter Suderman in Reason. The plan would just let states ask permission to try "slightly different" methods to "screw up their health systems in roughly the same way" that the Obama law does. Maybe the president wants Republicans to know he's heard their complaints. "But he doesn’t seem interested in actually doing much to help them."
"Obama endorses state flexibility (to implement single-payer health care systems)"

Obama's targeting Mitt Romney, too: As part of his remarks, the president "pointedly praised" the health care plan Romney set up as governor of Massachusetts — and that could be a "kiss of death" for the Republican's presidential aspirations, says Michael O'Brien at The Hill. Romney has already struggled with how best to present his reforms to GOP primary voters. And Obama's "undoubtedly political" comments are just the kind of "backhanded praise" Romney doesn't need.
"Obama talks up 'RomneyCare' amid GOP criticism of plan"

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