WASHINGTON – Surrounded by men and women who made their careers killing health care reform in the past, President Barack Obama on Thursday reiterated his pledge to enact comprehensive legislation this year, an ambitious undertaking many say is further complicated by the nation’s dismal economic condition.
“When times were good, we didn’t get it done. When we had mild recessions, we didn’t get it done,” Obama said at a White House summit launching his effort to treat the nation’s ailing health system. “There’s always a reason not to do it. Now is exactly the time for us to deal with this problem.”
In the room was Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who proudly reminded the crowd of 150 that he was instrumental in killing “Hillarycare” in 1993. Thursday, he announced he supported the principles outlined by Obama.
Also at the summit was Chip Kahn, who 15 years ago helped mastermind the iconic “Harry and Louise” ads attacking the overhaul proposed by Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Kahn, who now represents hospitals, said Obama had “successfully launched the process we need to achieve health reform, which we all want, and brought together congressional Democrats and Republicans with stakeholders to begin to forge a consensus.”
Karen Ignagni, who continues to run the leading insurance association today, told Obama: “You have our commitment to play, to contribute and to help pass health care reform this year.”
“That’s good news,” Obama said, sounding a bit surprised himself.
Obama used the summit, set in the gold-toned East Room with a cameo appearance by the ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to make the case that it is possible to simultaneously expand health coverage in America and control soaring medical bills.
“If we don’t tackle health care, then we’re going to break the bank,” Obama said.
The United States spends more per capita on health care than any other industrialized nation. Yet by numerous measures, Americans are in poorer health. Skyrocketing medical bills are often the cause of personal bankruptcy and threaten the global competitiveness of many companies, Obama said.
“And even for folks who are weathering this economic storm, and have health care now, all it takes is one stroke of bad luck – an accident or illness; a divorce or lost job – to become one of the nearly 46 million uninsured,” he said.
Political realities – Obama’s election and soaring poll numbers – coupled with economic pressures brought many of the players to the bargaining table this time.
“The status quo is worse than virtually any of the proposals we see out there,” said John Arensmeyer, founder of the Small Business Majority.