President Obama Speaks About Health Care Costs

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President Obama on Tuesday during his inaugural address discussed health care among a number of issues that his administration and Congress must address, the New York Times reports (Baker, New York Times, 1/21). During his speech, Obama said that "there is work to be done" on health care and a number of other issues (Condon, CongressDaily, 1/20).

He said, "Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet." In addition, he said, "We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost" (Rubenstein, "Health Blog," Wall Street Journal, 1/20).

Health Care Agenda

The Obama administration "plans to move fast" on efforts to "overhaul the health care system," the Wall Street Journal reports (Meckler/King, Wall Street Journal, 1/20). Obama will face the challenges of "raising health care's quality while lowering its costs" and "Medicare's mounting insolvency," according to the Washington Times (Lambro, Washington Times, 1/20). "In all likelihood, the length of time the president has to deal with problems and deliver on promises will vary with the problem and the promise," and Obama "probably has a good deal of breathing room not only on the economy but also on health care, given the long and tortured history of efforts to change the system," the New York Times reports (Nagourney, New York Times, 1/21).

Congressional Democrats hope to pass legislation that would reauthorize and expand SCHIP by the end of next week (Pierce/Dennis, Roll Call, 1/21). Expanding SCHIP "is considered a much easier task than a broad overhaul of health care," according to CQ Today (Jansen/Clarke, CQ Today, 1/20).

In addition, Obama plans to "use executive orders and the bully pulpit ... to mark a symbolic break from the policies of the past eight years" in a number of areas, such as health care, according to the Christian Science Monitor. As one of his first actions as president, Obama likely will lift restrictions on federal funds for embryonic stem cell research (Marks, Christian Science Monitor, 1/21). According to CQ Today, "some lawmakers want Congress to act as well" on the issue, "making it harder for future presidents to block such funding" (Jansen/Clarke, CQ Today, 1/20). Obama also likely will rescind a Bush administration policy directive that limits SCHIP eligibility to the lowest-income children and a rule that expands protections for health care workers who decide not to offer or participate in certain medical procedures, such as abortion, because of moral objections (Pear, New York Times, 1/20).



* Philadelphia Inquirer: Former President George W. Bush has left Obama with a "dismal economy, two wars, a mountain of debt and international enmity for U.S. foreign policy," but "Obama is giving strong indications that he is the right person to clean up the mess at this crucial moment in history" based on his proposals for health care and other issues, an Inquirer editorial states. According to the editorial, "Obama's early emphasis on pragmatic rather than partisan solutions" -- such as his proposal to include in an economic stimulus package subsidies to help recently unemployed workers cover the cost of their health insurance premiums under COBRA -- "should serve the nation well in this crisis." The editorial concludes, "Obama already has one thing going for him: At this critical transition in our history, the nation is pulling for its new president" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/18).

* USA Today: Obama during his inaugural address sent "one brief signal that things are about to change when he said it was time for 'an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics,'" a USA Today editorial states. According to the editorial, when Obama "blamed the nation's woes in part on 'a collective failure to make hard choices,' he surely had in mind past failures decades in which presidents and legislators have ignored problems," such as "popular but unsustainable programs such as Social Security and Medicare" (USA Today, 1/21).

Opinion Pieces

* Thomas McClanahan, Philadelphia Inquirer: Obama recently has said that "overhauling Social Security and Medicare would be central to his effort to curb federal spending," but the "idea that federal spending will be curbed strains credulity in the face of the massive stimulus package taking shape," Inquirer editorial board member McClanahan writes. He writes, "I can't recall any previous incoming president whose agenda and persona seemed more fuzzy," and although "Obama certainly deserves every chance of success, ... he's more likely to find it if he sticks to his recently discovered centrist leanings" (McClanahan, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/21).

* Holman Jenkins, Wall Street Journal: Obama "thus far has treated politics mainly as a business of mobilization, not persuasion," but that "will now have to change," as he has "had the audacity to inspire more hopes than he can deliver, especially with his new talk of entitlement reform," Journal columnist Jenkins writes. As part of that effort, Obama should end the "tax preference for employer-provided health care" and make "it up to workers with an income or payroll tax cut," both of which would "move the economy towards consuming health care efficiently and designing insurance policies that actually insure rather than channel the privileged class's health spending through a tax loophole," according to Jenkins. He writes, "The privileged class, exposed to meaningful price tags, would become a force for disciplining cost and quality rather than the opposite," adding, "Nothing else would so improve the country's long-term fiscal prospects or do more to lend practicality to Mr. Obama's goal of universal coverage" (Jenkins, Wall Street Journal, 1/21).

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