President Obama grabbed the initiative in the health insurance reform debate by bringing a clear message to grassroots supporters via a national teleconference and webcast August 20. Because it will provide a quality public option and a raft of consumer protections, both people with and without health insurance have a stake in the fight for reform, the President argued.

‘I don’t have to explain to you why it’s important to pass health reform for the 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance,’ President Obama said. ‘But it’s just as important to explain to the Americans who do have health insurance, which is the majority of Americans, that they understand what health reform means for them.’

Cutting through the right-wing noise and misinformation machine, the President explained that health reform is basically about expanding choices, controlling the cost of care and providing new consumer protections.

Health reform will allow people who are satisfied with their current insurance plan and doctor to keep them, President Obama said. ‘If your employer provides you health insurance on the job, nobody is talking about messing with that.’

For people without health insurance, the President went on, there will be a number of high-quality, affordable options made available in a virtual insurance marketplace called an exchange. Obama explained that millions of people without insurance are working in small businesses or are self-employed and simply can’t afford expensive premiums.

‘What we want to do is give them a menu of options that they can choose from and then a little bit of help in terms of making their premiums more affordable,’ the President indicated.

‘We’re going to have a marketplace where people can select the plan that works for them,’ Obama said. ‘A majority of those choices will be private insurance options.’

‘Now, one of the options we want to provide them is a public option,’ he added.

On this point, the President slammed right-wing misinformation tactics about this aspect of health reform. No one will be forced into a public insurance program. It will be one of many choices in the exchange, much like what members of Congress already have as part of the federal employees health benefit program, Obama pointed out.

But providing a public insurance option is a key aspects of health reform, because it ensures that everyone will have a choice. Because of this it will keep private insurance companies honest through real competition, and it will bring the overall cost of care down, the President added. In addition, the public insurance plan will serve as a benchmark for the minimum benefits all insurance plans participating in the exchange will be required to provide.

The goal is to make sure that when health insurance consumers choose to buy private insurance they will still be covered by the consumer protections built into the public option. ‘It will make sure that private insurers will give you a fair deal,’ the President said.

Expanding affordable choices is only one aspect of reform, President Obama stated. People who have insurance already and like the plan they have will see a host of new consumer protections that will allow them to keep their plans if they move or lose their job. Insurance companies will also be barred from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions or raising their rates based on gender.

In addition, a little-known insurance company practice of canceling coverage through a process called rescission, or using fine print to deny coverage even when a person has paid all of their premiums, will be prohibited. Yearly or lifetime caps on payments for doctor and hospital bill that currently force people with serious medical conditions to pay huge out-of-pocket expenses will also be eliminated.

Health reform will also tackle the growing cost of Medicare.

Simply put, the President explained, health reform is for everyone – both people without insurance and for people who already have coverage they like.

The August 20 event was aimed primarily at grassroots supporters of reform in the labor movement and in Organizing for America (OFA), the activist network that emerged out of the 2008 presidential campaign.

OFA organizers boasted that sine the launch of its health reform campaign this past June, more than 11,900 pro-reform events across the country in every congressional district have been held. Some 64,000 activists have met with members of Congress to urge support for reform, far more than the number of people who have recently disrupted town hall meetings, OFA organizers added.

In total, through OFA, more than 1.5 million people have taken some kind of action in support of health reform, a fact that the media has so far failed to cover in any meaningful way.


Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.