Speaking at The Patriot Center at George Mason University today, President Barack Obama told approximately 8,000 attendees that the Health Care Reform bill could be called a “Patients’ Bill of Rights on Steroids.” Obama’s speech was like a just-before-the-buzzer three-pointer: a perfect throw through the hoop to a wildly cheering crowd composed of students, parents, retirees and diverse middle Americans who chanted “Health Care Now!” and “Yes We Can!” repeatedly, utterly drowning out a few initial feeble boos. Although several dozen protesters outside displayed posters of the President as Adolf Hitler and The Joker, and one waved a sign “Taxed Enuf Already,” they were not only outnumbered but outclassed by the pro-Obama, pro-health care crowd.
The President began by recalling how he had visited George Mason three years ago, at the very beginning of his campaign, when “the Conventional Wisdom in Washington was that change was too hard,” and most of the Insiders could not even pronounce his name.
Three years later, Obama said, at the end of a long and agonizing year of debate and an excrutiating, sometimes messy, legislative process, Congress is now ready to vote on health care in just a few days. This is the culmination of a hundred years’ of discussion, beginning with Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, who first proposed that every American should have access to health care. Since his time many Presidents, both Democratic and Republican have attempted health care legislation. The President admitted he did know just how the vote would turn out; the media and the pundits seem to be concentrating on side questions such as “will this help the Democrats?” or “will this hurt Obama,” and “what do the polls say?” Obama said emphatically that he did not care about those questions (meaning, they are the wrong questions) but only about finally doing the right thing.
Scoffing at the wild and ridiculous distortions of the health care bill made its opponents, President Obama frankly attacked the unconscionable greed of today’s health insurance industry, and cited a couple of anecdotes in evidence. The bill will provide millions of Americans with coverage who are presently uninsured, and young people can continue to be covered under their parents’ policies for a period of time after they graduate and are still getting established in the job market. The bill will end denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions as well as halting the infamous practice of cancelling coverage if you get sick and actually need to use your insurance. Small businesses will be able to offer employees the same kind of coverage Congress has so carefully arranged for itself, and there are tax credits to help business and lower-income workers to pay the cost.
Yes, explained the President, this broader coverage and regulation of the insurance industry will have a cost. It is not free, and his administration will pay for it through reduction in administrative costs and elimination of medical fraud. In fact, he noted proudly, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this health care reform will actually reduce the deficit by over 138 Billion dollars over 10 years. What a remarkable achievement, unlike the previous administration, which passed a prescription drug benefit without paying for it. “Students, we will not be taking out a credit card in your name to pay for health care reform in the future.” The crowd loved it.
I worked as a Volunteer on the floor of the Patriot Center, checking tickets for those admitted to the inner circle close to the podium. The event was open to the public otherwise, and no tickets were required. The crowd included a broad spectrum of America as well as a number of foreign visitors who were, I suspect, mostly students at GMU. The evening before I had attended a Volunteer Training session; when I arrived about 7:30 PM I found a crowd composed half of young (everyone looks young to me nowadays) students who had made signs for use outside the Patriot Center, and the other half of retirees (some in their 70’s and 80’s) and people who hurried in afer working a full day. In other words, a typical Obama crowd, very diverse and bursting with energy. The tide is turning, I believe, and health care has the momentum now if today’s Obama-event is any indication.