Obama Misleads on Integrating GOP Health Care Ideas

In speaking to House Republicans today, President Obama made a number of disingenuous claims about integrating their proposals into the health care legislation.

For instance, Obama said:

“From the start, I sought out and supported ideas from Republicans. I even talked about an issue which has been a holy grail for a lot of you, which was tort reform, and said that I’d be willing to work together as part of a comprehensive package to deal with it. I just didn’t get a lot of nibbles.”

The operative word here is “talked.” Republicans tried and failed to get Democrats to address tort reform. Not only do both bills exclude medical malpractice reform, but the House bill actually sets up incentives that discourage such reform at the state level.

Obama today:

“Creating a high-risk pool for uninsured folks with preexisting conditions. That wasn’t my idea, it was Sen. McCain’s, and I supported it, and it got incorporated into our approach.”

The high-risk pool “incorporated” in the Senate bill would only be a temporary measure that would be in effect until 2014, when the federal government would start requiring insurers to cover those with preexisting conditions. McCain’s proposal on high-risk pools was meant as a substitute for taking the drastic step of imposing such regulations at the federal level, which distorts the entire insurance market to address a problem that affects a small percentage of Americans. Requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions is popular in isolation, but inevitably leads to skyrocketing premiums, which leads to an individual mandate forcing healthy people into the insurance pool, which leads to subsidies, which leads to higher taxes. But regardless what side of this debate you’re on, the reality is that Democrats didn’t adopt the high-risk pool idea to incorporate Republican ideas, it’s just something to hold people over until the regulatory regime takes over in 4 years. (And remember, the reason they delayed implementation so long was that by postponing the bill’s major spending provisions, they made the legislation appear cheaper over the Congressional Budget Office’s 10-year budget window).

More Obama:

“Allowing insurance companies to sell insurance across state lines to add choice and competition and bring down costs for businesses and consumersâ€_. That’s an idea that was incorporated into our package.”

This is another misleading statement. The impetus for the conservative proposal to allow people to purchase insurance across state lines is that many states have imposed so many benefit mandates on health insurance that there are parts of the country where it’s difficult to buy a basic medical plan with affordable monthly premiums. Obama argued during the campaign (and reiterated today) that free interstate purchase of insurance would be a bad idea, because insurers would flock to states with the least regulations. Again, regardless of what side of the debate you’re on, all the Senate bill would do would be to allow states to form “compacts” with one another allowing for the purchase of insurance among any states that form a compact. The problem is that Obamacare would impose a new federal regulatory regime, in which there would be minimum benefit requirements imposed at the national level. So even if states did agree to form these compacts with one another, all it would mean is that individuals could have the “choice” of purchasing government-designed insurance policies on a government-run exchange in their own state, or instead choose among government-designed insurance policies offered on the government-run exchange in another state.

Today’s back and forth between Obama and Republicans was great theater, but that’s all Obama excels at. If he thinks his ideas on health care are superior and wants to continue to discard alternatives, that‘s his choice. But he can’t credibly argue that he’s made a concerted effort to integrate opposing ideas into the current legislation.