President Barack Obama listens to Senator Edward M. Kennedy speaking during the Health Care Summit second session. Thursday, March 5, 2008, in the East Room at the White House. Photo by Pete Souza."You have got to think this will be the Ted Kennedy Health Reform Act, because he's a beloved figure and he's championed the issue for so long...There are a lot of unknowns right now, but what we do know obviously is he is very close to Obama, and he also has quite a network of health policy experts that he can draw from."
--John Rother, policy director for the AARP, Boston Globe, July 2, 2008
Listen up. This past week, The Prez (President Barack Obama) did something very important, something that will, one way or another, affect all of us: he began an organized discussion about how to reform healthcare. It was the first in a series of discussions that will occur in other states all across the country with doctors, patients, policy wonks and other folk.
These regional forums will take some time, but they are very necessary. First, they are needed to make sure Americans understand that The Prez is listening. Remember when First Lady tried to do universal healthcare in the 90's? Remember how she tried to manipulate it through congress with backroom deals without the American people knowing what was going on? Remember how Republicans dissed her, saying she wanted to drain the government treasury while developing another socialist government program? Remember what a failure it was? Well, by meeting with Americans from different parts of the country and making it all transparent, The Prez is demonstrating that he has learned from the First Lady Clinton's experience.
He is also demonstrating that, after all these years, he has not forgotten how to organize. As organizers well know, you don't make decisions ahead of people. Instead, you let people have their say, have their day. Then you pull them back together to move forward: to formulate recommendations or solutions and to fight to implement them.
The second reason it should take some time is that The Prez needs to let the American people hear just how complicated healthcare is in this country. It involves a convergence of many players: Patients, doctors, insurance companies, hospitals, HMOs, unions, etc. It involves a delicate balancing act of providing information more efficiently and effectively to doctors while, at the same time, protecting the patient's privacy. And, just as importantly, healthcare is deeply woven into the crisis in the American economy. For example, several Ford and several big auto companies have already begun pulling out of America and setting up shops in Canada, where they don't have to pay their workers healthcare coverage. This means a significant drop in the cost they have to pay workers to make each new vehicle. So The Prez is making Americans gain a greater understanding of the relationship between healthcare and business: how getting a handle on healthcare can help the government to get a handle on the economy as well. In opening up the forum, he stated:
"Health care reform is a fiscal imperative.Skyrocketing health care costs are draining our federal budget, undermining our long-term economic prosperity and devastating American families."
The main idea of these forums, says The Prez, is to "...bring together diverse groups of people all over the country who have a stake in reforming our health care system and ask them to put forward their best ideas about how we bring down costs and expand coverage for American families."
By putting into the budget a 634 billion downpayment on healthcare and holding transparent, nation-wide discussions about it, The Prez is following through on his campaign promise to reform healthcare, to move it more closely to universal healthcare.
The regional forums will be in California, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Vermont over the coming weeks.