I am such a political nerd. I watched the healthcare summit yesterday and loved every minute of it. I generally listen to talk radio while working; instead, yesterday, I used my auxiliary computer screen to live stream the healthcare summit on C-Span. If you weren't able to watch it, here is the C-Span link where you can watch the recorded broadcast. Yesterday evening National Public Radio also aired an hour-long analysis of the summit, but it really paled in comparison to the real thing.
President Obama set the tone at the beginning by reminding the attendees that the purpose of the summit was to find bipartisan consensus on healthcare-- not to talk about process, not to campaign, not to dredge up differences, and not to spout hackneyed talking points. Throughout the day, he had to remind attendees why they were meeting.
Everyone had stories about constituents who gone bankrupt or lost loved ones because of poor insurance coverage or no coverage. Several-- including the President-- had stories about pre-existing conditions, and there was consensus that if they were not covered by the government's Cadillac health plan that they would have a hard time buying insurance on the open market today. I was impressed with their thorough knowledge of the problems. (Of course, they have been talking about healthcare reform for a year!)
The other consensus--besides recognition of the problems with the current non-system-- was the identification of the common enemy-- health insurance companies. The health insurance companies were vilified by Democrats and Republicans alike for raising rates, for dropping sick people, and for strict-- and sometimes absurd-- rules about pre-existing conditions. Although pre-existing conditions were discussed at length, the Republican's plan would expand coverage to only 3 million Americans-- compared to 30 million under the President's plan-- and would not get rid of pre-existing conditions, according to NPR.
Over and over again-- ad nauseam-- the Party of No said the Congress should start over, which in an election year means: "Let's just forget about this for a while." Despite repeated Republican calls for a "clean sheet of paper," President Obama and the Democrats pushed for comprehensive reform and expanding coverage throughout the day.
The other Republican suggestion was to address a piece of the problem-- rather than tackle comprehensive reform. Which piece was not clear. (This way, they could go back to their constituents and say they did something.) The Republicans also were clearly more worried about tort reform, the cost of healthcare to the government, and deficit spending than expanding coverage for uninsured Americans. (Ironically, the cost of Medicare skyrocketed under the Bush Administration with the prescription drug bill that does not allow the US government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies-- so Republicans created this problem. Also, the Republicans under President Bush didn't worry about deficit spending. )
The Republicans-- including Arizona's Jon Kyl-- railed against "mandated coverage" because it would be too expensive and because people want choice. Basically, what they are calling "mandated coverage" the President calls a "minimum benefits package." He used the example of the fictitious Acme Car Insurance that he purchased as a college student, but when he was rear-ended, it didn't cover the repairs to his car. He said we have to eliminate insurance coverage that doesn't really cover anything and eliminate lifetime caps on coverage. Now people have the "choice" to buy really cheap insurance that in the end may or may not be adequate. Kyl said that these mandates would raise rates for some Arizonans; the President's point was that it may raise rates for people who have the really cheap policies that leave them underinsured.
One high point of the day was when Arizona Senator John McCain began grandstanding, and President Obama reminded him they were no longer on the campaign trail. Of course, McCain is on the campaign trail, since he is up for re-election, and conservatives, independents, and progressives in Arizona are not happy with his performance.
One of the day's best statements originally came from Senator Harry Reid but was repeated a few times by others. Reid reminded Republicans that they were entitled to their own opinions but not their own set of facts.
If you want to learn more about the different healthcare reform ideas and see your government at work, turn off the pundits and watch the C-Span live videos of this summit.
This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.