Some news outlets have described Obama’s speech at a health care rally in Pennsylvania yesterday as "angry" or "fiery." As satisfying as it is to hear Obama say something nasty about the insurance companies, the details of his supposed "vilification" of these bloodsucking middlemen are well in line with the tepid outlines of the Democrats’ current health care reform plans. As described by the Christian Science Monitor:
President Obama charged that insurance companies have made a calculation that they can deny coverage for preexisting conditions, drop coverage when people need it most, and make big profits "as long as they can get away with it."
It was widely known from the start of the so-called health care debate that a baseline goal would be to stop insurance companies from denying people coverage because of pre-existing conditions, or knocking people off the rolls when they got sick. (The public option, as everyone should by now have realized, was never much more than a bargaining chip.) And that’s just what’s likely to happen. The insurance companies might have to endure a few insults along the way, but in the end they will get the deal they've always been promised: They'll make a few concessions in return for a boatload of new, government-mandated customers.
It was also well understood that any health care reform must genuflect before the alter of the free market. That has been a given since Reagan took office in 1981 and the conservative Heritage Foundation came up with its health care reform plan--which quite resembles the one now being promoted by Obama and many other Democrats.
The Heritage plan is based on the Federal Employee Health Benefits program (FEHB). (See Stephanie Mencimer's earlier piece on the subject, as well as mine.) It supports a vending machine type "exchange" to sell private insurance across the country to one and all, thereby achieving a supposed twofer: affordable universal health care and preservation of the free market. The problem, of course, is that there is no free market when it comes to health insurance, and the FEHB is becoming more expensive by the day. So the exchanges will do nothing but bring mediocre and criminally overpriced insurance to a slightly larger pool of people.
And if we are to believe the latest tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, this is pretty much what Americans seem to want--a timid, lukewarm reform that addresses some of the worst abuses of the health care system without rendering any fundamental change.