According to 2008 US Census Bureau data, approximately 47 million Americans, or 15.8 percent of the U.S. population, were without health insurance during 2006 – a 4.9 percent increase from the previous year. The average annual cost of employees’ share of the cost of employer-provided coverage more than doubled from 1999 to 2008, from $1,543 to $3,354.
Based upon these realities, presidential candidate Obama made health care reform a central theme of his campaign. He promised to achieve universal health care in his first term and to cut the average family’s health care health care premiums by $2,500. In the ongoing health care reform debate, it is very important to remember that as a result of this and other campaign promises, President Obama won the 2008 presidential election with 53 percent of the popular vote to Senator McCain’s 46 percent.
According to a June poll, 85 percent of respondents said the health care system needed to be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt. Another poll found that 83 percent of respondents favored and only 14 percent opposed “creating a new public health insurance plan that anyone can purchase.” These numbers indicate that health care reform is very important to the American people.
In spite of overwhelming support for reform, however, only 42 percent of Americans currently support the health care reform plan spearheaded by President Obama and the Democratic Party. A record 53 percent of Americans are opposed to the plan.
What is at the heart of this disconnect? How is the Obama administration’s message and health care reform plan seemingly so out of sync with the public’s perception of reality?
The opponents to health care reform, particularly those opposed to the Obama administration’s plan, have taken control of the public debate by force, distortions and partisan politics. They are changing the debate on health care into a debate on health care for illegal immigrants, abortion, and other wedge issues.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) has vowed to make health care Obama’s Waterloo, and urged conservative activists to help “break him.” DeMint has compared the United States under Obama to the 1930’s Nazi Germany under Hitler and cast the heated health care fight as “a real showdown between socialism and freedom”.
Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) recently released his version of the health care reform initiative. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Baucus bill will insure 94 percent of Americans and cost $829 billion over 10 years. Even though the Baucus bill lacks the public option, it does put the debate on the right track. In fact, Baucus’ plan has received a boost this week, with the CBO stating that it would reduce the deficit by $81 billion in the next 10 years and would raise more money even after this.
It is time for both sides to work in the best interest of the American people and not their partisan interests – and that includes Democrats. To continue a dialogue that is full of distortions, rhetoric and diatribes is counterproductive to bringing about real reform and does the American people and democracy a great disservice. Democracy works best when individuals with opposing views engage in open and honest debate in the public square.
The Democrats are losing us, the patient, because they have allowed the opposition to control the debate and are more concerned about saving themselves and insurance companies than saving Americans. To move health care reform from the ICU, Democrats will need more voices than just that of the president.