What we need to hear from Obama on healthcare

With recent polls showing that 50% of Americans disagree with the president’s handling of healthcare policy, President Obama has some work to do in tonight’s television conference if he intends to win Americans over on this fundamental issue.

Ushering in an effective universal healthcare system would not only be a political boon for Obama. It would also have a significant impact, not only on the 46 million uninsured, but on the lives of all Americans.

Tonight the president must:

1)Clarify exactly what his new healthcare policy entails

There is a great deal of confusion as to how exactly a universal healthcare policy would be implemented and what such a plan actually entails. Partisan politicking over healthcare reform has meant that the media coverage on the topic has involved either a lot of spin or scaremongering, leaving the average person unsure as to what universal healthcare really is. Does it, for example, mean that all Americans will be forced to use government-run services? Does it mean less choice, access and a lowering of quality? These are the kinds of questions and concerns that Obama must clear that up when he addresses the country tonight.

2)Set out the economic impact of universal coverage

Americans are currently feeling financially overburdened. The economic downturn has resulted in individual as well as societal sacrifices, with families having to scale back on expenses and taxpayers footing the bill for bailouts of private companies. The president must directly set out the economic impact of his new healthcare policy and its costs to individuals, families, employers and even the federal deficit. He must ensure that his plans for healthcare reform are not seen as yet another burden on the pockets of American citizens. The idea of higher taxes is scary to most. The president must clarify what these higher taxes would be.

3)Emphasize the benefits of universal healthcare coverage over the current system

According to another comprehensive poll, while 44% of Americans believe that everyone should have access to universal health care, a bigger number – 48% – are not in agreement. Obama needs to persuade those non-believers of the merits of a universal healthcare system, appealing to them not only from the point of view of health but also from the point of view of society. The constitution says that people are created free and equal, so why would Americans allow such vast inequalities to exist when it comes to access to health, one of man’s most basic human rights?

4)Focus on the successes of other countries that have had universal healthcare coverage for decades.

Obama can use the examples of countries such as Canada or those in Europe, which have excellent nationalized and universal healthcare systems, to demonstrate how the system could work in America.

5)Plainly set out the impact that uninsured Americans have on the lives of insured Americans.

According to the Zogby International poll, the majority – 84% – of those who are already insured claim to be happy with their healthcare insurance. Those people can be unhappy or unwilling to see the benefit in helping those who are uninsured. However a report earlier this year by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggests that the plight of the uninsured has dire consequences even for those with good healthcare. They found that “privately insured, working-age adults in areas with higher uninsurance rates are less likely to report having a place to go for care when sick, getting a checkup or routine preventive care, and seeing a specialist when needed. They are also less likely to be satisfied with their choice of physicians or to trust their doctors’ decisions.”

6)Show that the overhaul in policy is not just about insurance, but about health care in general.

A new healthcare policy would include changes in preventative healthcare, not just in insurance coverage. Americans have indicated a willingness to be persuaded by wellness programs, incentives for prevention and more government research. President Obama would do well to emphasize the role that these would also play.

Currently, the Democrats face huge challenges in pushing this bill through without public support. If Obama addresses the public’s concerns, it’s likely that he could gain increased public support. If not, he may end up back at the drawing board.