The worst diagnosis a doctor can give any patient is an ambiguous one. Vague suggestions and referrals to colleagues and specialists exacerbate fears and heighten tensions. During last year’s presidential campaign, “Dr.” Barack Obama prescribed presciently the U.S. health care system was sick. Seven months through his first term in office, though, Americans are still left to wonder what exactly Obama thinks is the problem and what solution Obama and the Democrats will ultimately prescribe.
Much of the dithering is due to the delegation of the composition of the reform plan to Congress. Obama had presented a bare-bones outline of a reform plan during the Democratic primaries. The fact that Obama quickly jettisoned his main points of disagreement with Hillary Clinton, such as over the efficacy of mandating health insurance, and raised the possibility of conceding another with John McCain, over taxing employment benefits, raised further questions about what exactly Obama wanted. Obama gave the Congress little direction.
Obama both over-learned the lessons of Bill Clinton’s attempt to reform health care in the summer of 1993, and didn’t learn enough. Clinton’s plan, entirely conceived in the White House by Hillary Clinton and a team of aides, faltered in part because of a lack of communication with both Congress and the American people. In the summer of 2009 Obama’s proposed plan, written with minimal guidance from the White House by Congress, seems doomed because both Congress and the White House waited until July to goon the offensive to explain the reforms they were pursuing to the American people.
Political reality now dictates that the type of radical change to the health care system Obama says is necessary will not come about now. Instead, Obama needs to turn away from fighting a war of choice over the nature of comprehensive health care reform and towards a war of necessity to pass a package that fixes nuts-and-bolts problems with the health care system.
This reform would lack the public option. Instead, it would institute new regulations protecting consumers from losing coverage if they become sick and make it easier for those with pre-existing conditions to qualify for public plans. At the same time, Congress should permit health insurance to be marketed across state lines and streamline privacy protections nationwide, while working to digitize more medical records.
If Obama does not achieve any sort of reform, he risks losing credibility on domestic issues, like George W. Bush did in 2005 after failing to privatize part of social security.
Obama cannot afford repeats of 1994 and 2006 in 2010. The diseased health care system might metastasize into a severe, chronic political problem that will dog Obama into an unnecessarily competitive reelection campaign in 2012. It’s time for Obama to prescribe a clear set of medication to let the symptoms of the health care crisis go away — that way he can retain some medicine to help cure the other problems that ail the country.
Adam McCall is a College sophomore from Acton, Mass. He is the speaker of SGA legislature.