Feature

Putting health reform on the agenda

President Obama launched an ambitious effort to overhaul the health-care system by assembling a White House forum and by setting aside $634 billion for health-coverage expansion.

President Obama has launched an ambitious effort to overhaul the health-care system, assembling a White House forum billed as the first step toward comprehensive reform. Arguing that the recession has turned health reform into a “fiscal imperative,” Obama last week called on insurers, doctors, and others to offer solutions to spiraling health costs and the growing legion of uninsured. Claiming the middle ground in the coming debate, Obama warned that “bleeding-heart liberal” solutions to providing universal coverage would have enormous price tags. But he also proclaimed that “all Americans deserve quality, affordable health care.”

Obama’s budget sets aside $634 billion for health-coverage expansion. But he did not present a reform package, leaving it to the Democratic-led Congress to tackle such sticky issues as whether insurance coverage should be mandated and whether the government should compete directly with private insurers.

Well, it’s “a start,” said The New York Times in an editorial. Obama deserves credit for sticking to his pledge to move on health care, despite all the other challenges he faces. But by contracting out the heavy lifting to Congress, Obama runs the risk of losing control over this enormously complex and divisive issue. Eventually, “someone will need to make the hard choices.”

You can be sure liberal Democrats will be making those choices, said Stephen Spruiell in National Review Online, with taxpayers picking up the tab. Democrats have embraced the mushy notion that health care is “a right”—so it must be guaranteed by the government. So brace yourselves for “reform” that has the government—in the name of fairness—deciding what care is appropriate and how much it should cost.

That doesn’t sound so bad compared with the current fiasco, said Joe Conason in Salon.com. Americans spend twice as much per person for health care as do citizens in countries with government-run systems, yet we lag in life expectancy, infant mortality, and other  measures. Some 50 million of our fellow citizens have no insurance at all. Our hodgepodge system is “wasteful and cruel,” and it’s time we joined the rest of the “developed world” and acknowledged that heath care is “a public good and a human right.”

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