Not backing off

NOT BACKING OFF…. With less than a week before the White House hosts a bipartisan summit on health care reform, the forcefulness of President Obama’s message on the issue seems to be picking up.

The president appeared at a town-hall event in Henderson, Nevada, yesterday, joined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D). There were several questions about health care reform, and Obama offered a detailed summary of his thoughts on the matter.

First, he addressed why he decided to take the issue on, talking about Americans “who have lost their job and suddenly they don’t have health insurance, somebody in their family gets sick, and they lose their house.” Obama went on to talk about soaring premiums for people who already have coverage, the ways in which the status quo drives up the deficit, and the ways in which the current dysfunctional system undermines economic growth.

The president then transitioned to talking about what he planned to do about it.

“What we have said is this: If you have health insurance, we are going to pass a series of health reforms so that the insurance companies have to treat you fairly — it’s very straightforward — that they can’t prevent you from getting health insurance because of a preexisting condition; that they can’t put a lifetime cap so in the fine print it turns out that you’re not fully covered. So there are a whole series of insurance reforms — that’s number one.

“Number two, we’ve got a whole series of cost controls. So what we’re saying is, for example, that every insurer, they’ve got to spend the vast majority of your premiums on actual care, as opposed to profits and overhead. We’re saying that we’ve got to get out some of the waste and abuse, including subsidies to insurance companies in the Medicare system that run in the tens of billions of dollars every year. That’s not a good use of your taxpayer dollars. And we’re working to improve wellness and prevention, as I said before, so that people aren’t going to the emergency room for care.

“Now, the third thing, and the thing that’s most controversial, sadly, is what we’re also saying is we’ve got to make sure that everybody can have access to coverage. And the way we do that is we set up something called an exchange, where essentially individuals and small businesses who aren’t getting a good deal because they don’t have the same negotiating power as the big companies when it comes to the insurance market, they can pool just like members of Congress and federal employees do in their health care plan — they can pool so that now they’ve got the purchasing power of a million people behind them and they can get a better deal. That can lower their costs. And we’ll give subsidies for working families who can’t afford it even with lower premium costs.” […]

And, by the way, it would actually save us money in the long term, because all those wasteful dollars that we’re spending right now, the experts estimate we’d actually save a trillion dollars by passing it.

He added that Republicans “say that they’ve got a better way of doing it. So I want them to put it on the table…. I’m not an unreasonable guy.”

This morning, the president also devoted another weekly address to health care, emphasizing the “jaw-dropping” premium increases many Americans are facing, and explain that “the status quo is good for the insurance industry and bad for America…. And as bad as things are today, they’ll only get worse if we fail to act.” He added:

“What’s being tested here is not just our ability to solve this one problem, but our ability to solve any problem. Right now, Americans are understandably despairing about whether partisanship and the undue influence of special interests in Washington will make it impossible for us to deal with the big challenges that face our country. They want to see us focus not on scoring points, but on solving problems; not on the next election but on the next generation. That is what we can do, and that is what we must do when we come together for this bipartisan health care meeting next week.”

As Jonathan Cohn noted last night, “A president planning to give up on a major reform bill would be unlikely to talk that way.”