Health reform: dead or alive?


President Obama is pressing for a new deadline on the passage of the health care reform after it became clear that the Senate is not going to vote before the August recess. Glen Ford, the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report says the longer they wait to reform the health care system, the more likely it is that the public is going to turn against it. Produced by Ania Smolenskaia

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Story Transcript

President Obama is pressing for a new deadline on the passage of the health-care reform, after it became clear that the Senate is not going to vote before the August recess. On Thursday, during a town hall meeting in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Obama said he is hoping to sign the bill into law by the end of this year.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: We just heard today day that while we may not be able to get the bill out of the Senate by the beginning of August, that’s okay. I just want people to keep on working. I want the bill to get out of the committees, and then I want that bill to go to the floor, and then I want that bill to be reconciled between the House and the Senate, and then I want to sign a bill. And I want it done by the end of this year.

The Real News spoke to Glen Ford, the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, about the state of the health-care reform.

GLEN FORD: The House is holding off on having a vote of its own because it doesn’t want to be second-guessed by an even more right-wing Senate. Obama’s not going to get this vote in both houses before there is a recess. He wanted that very badly, because in fact this is all about symbolism and the appearance of getting a difficult job done. It’s not about reform. Reform, by definition, changes the relationships of forces, relationships of power. This does none of that. And that’s at the root of Obama’s failure, or this fiasco, as it is unfolding, that he set out to create some kind of grand national consensus on health care without confronting power. And when you try to make a consensus without confronting power, power always wins. He wound up privileging and empowering the most right-wing members of his own political party. So now we have a gaggle of about five Democrats from the right wing of his party, in whose hands the fate of what’s still being called "health reform" rests. And they are carrying on their negotiations with Republicans and insurers, who want no meaningful reform and who in fact seem to be making progress in actually profiting from some elements of this alleged reform is, that is, having certain subsidies locked-in in return for promises to at some time in the future save the people some money by not gouging as much as they plan.

In his prime-time address last week, the president has introduced a new term for the health reform. He referred to it as a "health-insurance reform."

OBAMA: Even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before. And health-insurance reform is central to that effort.

FORD: This is not a health-care bill; this is a health-insurance bill. And that’s a very, very different thing. One is focused on getting as generalized quality care for as many people as possible in the national interest. The other is a push-and-pull between different profit-making enterprises to see how much profit can be garnered through this legislation.

And though the president spoke about many agreements and compromises already made, the public option discussion was kept to bare minimum.

OBAMA: Having a public plan out there that also shows that maybe if you take some of the profit motive out, maybe if you are reducing some of the administrative costs, that you can get an even better deal, that’s going to incentivize the private sector to do even better.

FORD: You incentivize the private insurers by presenting a product that is better than what they have. They, however, because this debate is being run by the right wing of the Democratic Party, they are constructing the product that will present as little threat as possible to the private insurers. What they are in fact concocting is an inferior and possibly multi-tiered plan, a very small one, which will be administered by private insurance and only subsidized by the federal government. It will be a product that is purposely not attractive. Incentive means real competition. Real competition means a product that is accessible to many, many millions of people and that delivers a better product than the competition, the private insurers. The whole debate here is not about making a quality product that reaches as many Americans as possible for as low a cost; the heart of the debate, all of this wrangling, is to make sure that the private insurance interests are not threatened by a public option. Therefore it’s a contradiction.

Obama also introduced a new idea of creating an independent commission to set Medicare payment rates. It was originally proposed by the Blue Dogs, a fiscally conservative group of Democrats, and was roughly agreed upon by Chairman Waxman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

FORD: The idea of this panel of experts sounds like a good one, but, of course, we don’t know which sectors of medicine they represent. And also it’s totally undemocratic. Who are these high priests, who represent some economic interests, to impose the standards for health care for the rest of us and be able to override the Congress? Clearly, the people who proposed this are afraid of the kind of public momentum that a real health-care reform movement would engender, and want to put another undemocratic obstacle in the way before it gets started. The way the debate was purposely framed by Obama and transmitted in this fashion by the corporate media was that we have Obama, he represents progress and the left, nobody to his left, and Obama having this conversation with all of these people who supposedly are to his right. So we had a right-wing conversation going on, orchestrated by President Obama. He orchestrated it by shutting single-payer advocates out of the debate.

The only panel to include the single-payer alternative in the bill so far is the House Education and Labor Committee, where Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced an amendment which lets states create their own single-payer health-care systems.

FORD: So the local route is the only way to go. But one has to be realistic about this. When you go from state to state, this, a mishmash of programs, you’re going to have the same problem that you have regarding states’ relationships with each other in terms of economic development and all kinds of economic issues. That is, those states that have their own single-payer plan, which will have to be paid for, will then be labeled as being not business-friendly, that is, that they would be working at a disadvantage in the marketplace, in the same way that more progressive states that have higher levels of benefits and have always been described as not good places to do business. I think that reform is in fact dead, that every further step they make in terms of deforming this travesty that they call health-reform further discredits the idea itself in the minds of people. And the more contradictions they build, the more negative the public reaction will be to the whole experience of trying to construct edifices of reform. So this can be worse than nothing. And the longer they are allowed to play games with this, games against the interest of reform, the more likely it is that the public’s going to turn against the whole process. And that will set us back possibly decades.