A 'Town Hall' Conversation With Obama
by Thomas R. Eddlem
by Tom R. Eddlem
Recently by Thomas R. Eddlem: Is Ron Paul the Last Relevant Republican in Washington?
President Obama has been on a nationwide "town hall" tour over the past week promoting his fascist-style health care program, but freedom-loving critics of his plan have been scarce at those meetings. So I've decided to conduct an "interview" with the President myself, using my own questions interspersed with the actual answers Obama has given at his town hall meetings last week in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Belgrade, Montana. All of the words attributed to Obama are his.
President Obama: Okay. It's a guy's turn. Gentleman right there in the back, with the green.
Eddlem: Mr. President, I object to your government takeover of health care.
Obama: This is not some government takeover. If you like your doctor, you can keep seeing your doctor. This is important. I don't want government bureaucrats meddling in your health care, but I also don't want insurance company bureaucrats meddling in your health care either. That's what reform is about.
Eddlem: But you're saying is that the federal government would regulate private companies on the corporatist model, as designed by Benito Mussolini. Mussolini had the government run companies through regulations. What kind of regulations would you impose on insurance companies?
Obama: Insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage because of your medical history. A recent report found that in the past three years, more than 12 million Americans were discriminated against by insurance companies because of a preexisting condition. No one holds these companies accountable for these practices. But we will. And insurance companies will no longer be able to place an arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. Now, what we need to do is come up with a uniquely American way of providing care. So I'm not in favor of a Canadian system, I'm not in favor of a British system, I'm not in a favor of a French system.
Eddlem: But you are in also favor of what you call a "public option," a government program that would be socialist by definition.
Obama: So there's been talk about this public option. This is where a lot of the idea of government takeover of health care comes from. All we want to do is set up a set of options so that if you don't have health insurance or you're underinsured you can have the same deal that members of Congress have, which is they can look at a menu of options — we're calling it an exchange, but it's basically just a menu of different health care plans — and you will be able to select the one that suits your family best.
Eddlem: But the plans for member of Congress are paid for by the taxpayer.
Obama: Now, I recognize, though, you make a legitimate — you raise a legitimate concern. People say, well, how can a private company compete against the government?...
Eddlem:... actually private companies shouldn't have any trouble with that...
Obama: And my answer is that if the private insurance companies are providing a good bargain, and if the public option has to be self-sustaining — meaning taxpayers aren't subsidizing it, but it has to run on charging premiums and providing good services and a good network of doctors, just like any other private insurer would do — then I think private insurers should be able to compete. They do it all the time. I mean, if you think about — if you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? No, they are. It's the Post Office that's always having problems.
Eddlem: So why would you want to create another inefficient Post Office that isn't needed?
Obama: Most other countries have some form of single-payer system. There are differences — Canada and England have more of what's called — what people I guess would call a socialized system, in the sense that government owns the hospitals, directly hires doctors — but there are a whole bunch of countries like the Netherlands where what they do is, it's a single-payer system only in the sense that government pays the bill, but it's all private folks out there — private doctors, private facilities. So there are a bunch of different ways of doing it.
Eddlem: But are you saying the European socialized medicine programs are better than our private system?
Obama: Clearly we've got a system that isn't as efficient as it should be because we're not healthier than these people in these other countries. And I do think that having a public option as part of that would keep the insurance companies honest, because if they've got a public plan out there that they've got to compete against, as long as it's not being subsidized by taxpayers, then that will give you some sense of what — sort of a good bargain for what basic health care would be.
Eddlem: So you think government offers a "bargain" and is more efficient compared to private medicine?
Obama: First of all, it is important to know that Medicare is a government program. So when you hear people saying, "I hate government programs, but keep your hands off my Medicare" — (laughter) — then there's a little bit of a contradiction there.
Eddlem: I know it's a government program, and even you have pointed out that it contains a lot of waste.
Obama: Example number one: Subsidies to insurance companies under Medicare amount to about $177 billion over 10 years. That's how much we think we could save by eliminating subsidies to insurance companies that are offering what's called Medicare Advantage. It doesn't help seniors any more than regular Medicare does.
Eddlem: So we agree that Medicare is wasteful and should be replaced with a private and voluntary alternative?
Obama: Medicare is a terrific program and it gives our seniors security. And I want Medicare to be there for the next generation, not just for this generation. But if we don't make some changes in how the delivery system works, if we don't eliminate some of the waste and inefficiencies in the system, then seniors are really going to be vulnerable. So what we've proposed is not to reduce benefits — benefits on Medicare would stay the same — it's not to ration. What we are asking is that we eliminate some of the practices that aren't making people healthier.
Eddlem: Well, I've been forced to dump about $1,000 per year into Medicare for more than 25 years and have never received a penny in benefits. It doesn't sound like such a spiffy a deal to me, especially with you talking about it going deep into the red within ten years. That's long before this 43-year-old will qualify for "benefits." But you have boasted you can cut a lot of waste out of Medicare over-and-above that $177 billion in corporate subsidy to the insurance industry, right?
Obama: There's about $500 billion to $600 billion over 10 years that can be saved without cutting benefits for people who are currently receiving Medicare, actually making the system more efficient over time.
Eddlem: So you're saying you need to create a huge new government health care bureaucracy that you promise will be efficient, even though the health care program you're currently running is insanely wasteful. But this huge new government health care program of yours will cost $1 trillion. How are you going to pay for it without bankrupting the country?
Obama: Paying for it is not simple. I don't want to pretend that it is. By definition, if we're helping people who currently don't have health insurance, that's going to cost some money. It's been estimated to cost somewhere between, let's say, $800 billion and a trillion dollars over 10 years. Now, it's important that we're talking about over 10 years because sometimes the number "trillion" gets thrown out there and everybody think it's a trillion dollars a year — gosh, that — how are we going to do that? So it's about a hundred billion dollars a year to cover everybody and to implement some of the insurance reforms that we're talking about.
About two-thirds of those costs we can cover by eliminating the inefficiencies that I already mentioned. So I already talked about $177 billion worth of subsidies to the insurance companies. Let's take that money, let's put it in the kitty.
Eddlem: But Mr. President, you've already told the American people repeatedly that our government current health care expenditures are on a trajectory toward "breaking the federal budget." You've said we can't afford the status quo. If you spend all the Medicare "savings," as you say you plan to, we won't be any better off. So you've basically told us we don't have a "kitty" to spend. Aren't you really keeping us on that path to bankruptcy?
Obama: I just think I would rather be giving that money to the young lady here who doesn't have health insurance and giving her some help, than giving it to insurance companies that are making record profits. Now, you may disagree. I just think that's a good way to spend our money.
Eddlem: "Our money"? You must mean "other people's money." But Mr. President, what about the option of not spending the money you've already said the government won't have?
Obama: That's a lot of money. That's a lot of money.
Eddlem: No, Mr. President. It's a lot of money that doesn't even exist. You said so yourself!
Obama: That's over 10 years, though, all right? So that's about $90 billion — $80 billion to $90 billion a year. About two-thirds of it — two-thirds — can be obtained by doing some of the things I already mentioned, like eliminating subsidies to insurance companies. So you're right, that's real money. And the Congressional Budget Office has agreed with that; this is not something I'm just making up; Republicans don't dispute it.
Eddlem: No, Mr. President, that's patently untrue. The Congressional Budget Office has analyzed all of the bills and said that none of them eliminate more than $219 in projected increased costs, less than a quarter of the total. The CBO analysis of the House bill (H.R. 3200) says that the bill would add $239 billion to the deficit over and above the status quo, even with a massive $583 billion tax increase. Ted Kennedy's bill would add more than a trillion dollars directly to the deficit, according to the CBO. And as far as your remark about the Republicans "don't dispute it," talking to Chuck Grassley and ignoring just about every other Republican in the country doesn't count.
Obama: When I look at the federal budget and realize that if we don't control costs on health care, there is no way for us to close the budget deficit — it will just keep on skyrocketing — when I look at those two things, I say we have to get it done.
Eddlem: But Mr. President, the CBO says your plan would add hundreds of billions to the deficit!
Obama: And my hope is we can do it in a bipartisan fashion, but the most important thing is getting it done for the American people.
August 17, 2009
Thomas R. Eddlem [send him mail] is a freelance writer who writes for The New American, AntiWar.com, Examiner.com, and — of course — LewRockell.com. And he's never again going to write a wise-guy bio tag, because the last one mistakenly ended up in a book.... Well, he's not going to write one of those for a while anyway.
Copyright © 2009 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.