America’s understanding of healthcare reform needs to move beyond news headlines and 30-second sound-bites toward a deeper understanding, and Wednesday night’s ABC-TV presentation by the president – Prescription for America – did little to further that cause. The president seemed to be over his head talking about the issue, which probably explains why the audience appeared distant, bored and even catatonic.
Most of the audience questions and anecdotes were off-point and not relevant to the big picture and the president’s comments seemed at times to be incoherent and confusing. ABC’s news anchors Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer did their best to focus and clarify the discussion, but even they were unsuccessful keeping the session on track. It was 60 minutes of regurgitated Obama-ganda and not his best effort.
President Obama asserted that one-third of current healthcare costs are unnecessary, but didn’t elaborate. He should have offered some details, such as where those unnecessary costs reside in the system. Is it with the doctors, the hospitals or the drug companies? Is it the routine doctor visits or the (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime hospital stays that are causing the unnecessary costs? The president also said “we know what works and what doesn’t work” in providing healthcare, but offered no examples of either.
One of the factoids posted on a slide before a commercial break indicated that 50% of America’s healthcare costs can be attributed to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Important, big picture findings such as that deserve some commentary and clarification, wouldn’t you agree? Specific answers and examples might have helped set the stage for serious discussion and debate, which was the stated purpose of his presentation. As important, they might have given the growing number of skeptics in America confidence that their political leaders and bureaucrats actually know what their talking about on the healthcare issue.
Furthermore, I was amazed that the president could talk for an hour about healthcare reform without even mentioning tort reform, which many believe is needed to contain healthcare costs going forward (and many other costs in our economy). If he is serious about reforming healthcare, he needs to put aside the long-standing allegiance of the democrats to the civil trial lawyers of America who represent a major party constituency.
Tort reform refers to making changes to our civil justice system that would limit the amount of, and monetary damages arising from, litigation. Should victims of medical malpractice be compensated for their misfortune? Absolutely, but does the average settlement need to exceed a million dollars, and should that practice be allowed to paralyze and potentially bankrupt our healthcare system? Anyone seriously attempting to tame our healthcare cost burden must at least put tort reform on the table for discussion. Serious omissions such as that undermine the administration’s credibility and confirm our worst suspicions about how politics can distort our nation’s most important institutions.
Some democrats contend that America ‘s economic survival depends upon successful healthcare reform and just as many republicans contend that democrat proposals for reform will push us further into an economic abyss. Most disturbing, however, is that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle seem to be approaching the problem piecemeal and from the perspective of what will sell politically, rather than what will successfully reform our healthcare system.
The Obama administration promised government transparency and post-partisan decision-making. Now would be a good time to make good on its promise. We need to engage in a substantive discussion of the real issues surrounding healthcare reform, not just those that will lead to a politically expedient solution.