White House touts recovery act, health reform

In a bid to promote some of its major legislative accomplishments, the Obama administration highlighted this week the positive impacts of the economic recovery act and announced new rules created under the health reform law that will improve health insurance for tens of millions of Americans.

In advance of her quarterly report to Congress on the recovery act, top White House economic advisor Christina Romer told reporters, July 14, that the stimulus package has “raised employment” by more than 3 million jobs, but more needs to be done to ensure that all working families feel the full benefits of the recovery.

Romer reported that at the end of the second quarter of 2010, the stimulus package boosted the GDP between 2.7 and 3.2 percentage points over what it would have been if the law had not gone into effect. Also in the second quarter alone, stimulus programs created or saved some 800,000 jobs, 30 percent more than in the first quarter of 2010.

While direct payments and tax cuts that impacted about 95 recent of working families were important features of the law, she emphasized the “public investment” portions of the stimulus act and its role in job creation. A significant number of the projects funded by the recovery act will be put into place this summer, creating new job opportunities.

The recovery act is funding “everything from convention construction, like roads, bridges and airports, to 21st century infrastructure like the smart electrical grid, universal broadband and health information technology,” Romer said. In addition, stimulus funds are being invested in promoting green industries such as wind energy, energy efficiency retrofits and new research on long-life batteries.

Romer also reported that almost $100 billion of the recovery act aimed to “leverage” new investments from the private sector with tax incentives, loan guarantees, and matching grants in job-creating industries. She estimated that this part of the program encouraged some $380 billion in new investments. She called these types of programs “public-private partnerships” and predicted they would be an important source of new job growth going forward.

Even with these successes, Romer noted, some urgent problems remain. She called for passage of pending legislation that would provide additional aid to state governments to help them avoid laying off thousands of teachers or public safety personnel to cut their budgets. The administration wants passage of financial reform and a new small business stimulus package to help speed economic recovery, she said. The President is also working hard to make sure recovery act funds are moving quickly into the economy and are spent efficiently, she explained.

Extension of unemployment insurance is also a top priority, Romer added. Some 2.1 million have already seen their unemployment insurance benefits stop as a result of Senate Republicans legislative maneuvers to block an extension. Another three million will lose theirs by the end of this month without congressional action.

On top of the report on the economic recovery, the administration also announced, July 14, a new regulation authorized under the health reform law that will make preventive care available to tens of millions of people without an additional cost.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the new rule requires new health insurance policies created after September of this year to cover preventive services at no additional costs. The new rules will help Americans gain easier access to services such as blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol tests, many cancer screenings, routine vaccinations, pre-natal care, and regular wellness visits for infants and children, an HHS press statement said. People will also have access to counseling services for smoking and healthy dieting.

In a White House event announcing the new policy, First Lady Michelle Obama stressed the importance of preventive care for keeping families healthy. “Getting access to early care and screenings will go a long way in preventing chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and high-blood pressure,” she said. “And good preventative care will also help tackle an issue that is particularly important to me as First Lady and as a mother – and that is the epidemic of childhood obesity in America today. These are important tools, and now it’s up to us to use them.”

“Too many Americans don’t get the preventive services they need and the number one reason is cost,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters following the event. The health reform law changes that.

Sebelius pointed out that provision of regular preventive health services such as these could help avoid 100,000 deaths each year. She estimated that 41 million people with insurance now, either through their employer or in individual plans, will benefit from this new regulation.

“The administration is laying the foundation to help transform the health care system from a system that focuses on treating the sick to a system that focuses on keeping every American healthy,” Sebelius explained.

Photo: President Obama visits a Kansas City electric vehicle manufacturing company. (White House photo)



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.