WASHINGTON (CN) – President Barack Obama answered questions at a virtual town hall meeting on health-care reform Wednesday in an apparent effort to bolster support for some of his key pillars in legislation now before the House. “Don’t let people scare you out of reforming a system that we know is not working,” he said, at the same time batting back proposals to implement drastic changes.
When the first person asked via Internet why a single-payer system, like the ones in France and Canada, is not being considered, Obama replied, “This is one-sixth of our economy and we’re not suddenly just going to upend the system,” adding that such a change would be “hugely disruptive.”
He reiterated calls for a “uniquely American solution” that will cut costs by reallocating money to more effective treatments, change the incentive structure for doctors and hospitals, and that will continue to rely on employer coverage.
Over the last few weeks, health care has dominated public debate. After Obama said he wants reform before the end of the year, prominent Democrats introduced legislation that they said will give coverage to all Americans, slow the growth of health-care costs, and create a government insurance plan, all while working under the current health-care system.
“It’s really fiction to say that his ideas will reduce costs,” said Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute. She cited Obama’s proposal to pay for most of the reform by redirecting current funds, arguing that it would be impossible to cut $600 billion out of Medicaid and Medicare because every program has a constituency. “Congress has zero track record of being able to do that,” Turner said.
But Obama warned Americans not to fall for the “scare tactics” of naysayers, flaunting a pledge from pharmaceutical companies a few weeks ago to cut drug prices for seniors by $80 billion, and another pledge from health-care industry workers to cut cost growth by 1.5 percent, although this group has since denied they made such a pledge.
In his answers, Obama pushed ideas he has long since announced. One is for the creation of a public option, which he says will compete with private insurance companies “to keep them honest.”
He also said he wants to change incentives that automatically equate expensive care with better care. He said doctors often order too many costly tests because they are incentivized to do so, and because they want to protect themselves from malpractice lawsuits, but he did not explain how the incentives would be altered.
Two-thirds of the reform will be funded by redirecting health-care funds and the remaining third by raising taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, Obama said. “We have to pay for it,” he stated. “It’s got to be deficit neutral.”
Despite his call for change, Obama reiterated that he wants to keep the fundamental employer-based system, where employers contribute to the health coverage of their employees. He said the American system has evolved with employer coverage, and it would be too much of a shock to fundamentally change from this system.
“He’s not being that specific and I think intentionally so,” Turner said, explaining that Obama hopes to build support for broad principles of reform, but that he ultimately wants Congress to develop the legislation.