The 46.3 million Americans without health insurance coverage, coupled with the recent failure of Congress to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program has made health care one of the biggest domestic priorities in the United States, according to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.
Last Thursday, Clinton spoke at The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation's Barbara Johnson Conference Center as part of a series of talks entitled "The Presidential Candidate Forums." The topic of her speech was her stance on health care for the upcoming 2008 presidential election.
The forums, organized by the Federation of American Hospitals and Families USA, are designed to provoke an in-depth discussion of both Republican and Democratic candidates' health care plans.
The discussion, moderated by Susan Dentzer from The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, also featured Julie Rovner from National Public Radio, Tim Johnson from ABC News and Laura Meckler from The Wall Street Journal as part of a panel asking Clinton questions regarding her plans for health care reform and financing.
Dentzer posed the first question: "Do you believe all Americans should have health insurance coverage? And if so, and if you're elected president, how will you move toward this?"
Clinton advanced her American Health Choices Plan, referring to it as a "Health Choices Menu," in which people can choose what kind of coverage they would like to have.
According to Clinton, her plan would rest on four fundamental ideas that focus on giving quality affordable health care to anyone who applies for it. It would consist of both a private and a public option allowing people satisfied with their current plan to stay on it, emphasizing that if the plan goes into effect, a person would not have to change his doctor or hospital. The private option would be similar to the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan, which members of Congress currently receive, while the public option would boast similar benefits to Medicaid.
She emphasized the importance of shared responsibility among insurance companies, patients, the government and the medical community in better adopting her plan to ensure that change is fully implemented.
To finance the program, which analysts have estimated will cost roughly $110 billion, Clinton proposed rescinding tax cuts on families whose income exceeds $250,000 and limiting how many tax exemptions large companies can include.
Clinton has faced numerous criticisms on her health care policy stemming from her failure in 1993 to provide universal health care for all Americans during her time as First Lady from 1993 to 2001, which critics labeled a form of socialized medicine.
She addressed this head-on when Dentzer asked how Clinton would respond to the various critiques of her plan including that it would create a new bureaucracy for health care and actually put an even bigger strain on Americans through tax hikes.
She responded by claiming that her plan has more options and is actually cheaper than what most employers have to offer; it is a matter of insurance companies changing the way they do business. Moreover, the only way her plan could be considered socialized medicine is by equating Medicare to socialized medicine as well, according to Clinton.
During this question, Clinton expressed her frustration with the current state of partisan politics and recently, the impaired quality of decision making not based on facts.
"There's been way too much emphasis in ideology in the last six-and-a-half years. I want to get back to evidence-based decision making," she said.
Clinton's commitment to health care rests upon her campaign's commitment to rebuilding a strong middle class. She believes the state of our health care system reflects the character of our cuntry, pointing out our society is experiencing the largest gap between the rich and the poor since 1929, so much so that many people in America feel they are being ignored.
"I cannot tell you strongly enough how many Americans feel like they are invisible to their government. They don't have health insurance; it doesn't seem like anybody cares . . . They feel invisible," Clinton said.
"It is something that I believe is not only the morally-right thing to do; but economically imperative. It's good for our health; it's good for our economy; it's good for our society; and it moves us closer to being the country that we want to be in the 21st century," she added.
The highest point of contention, and some say Clinton's weakest area, occurred during the speech when Johnson questioned Hillary on her position that her plan would not extend coverage to illegal immigrants, emphasizing that the country loses something morally when they let any human being go without care including emergency and preventive measures.
Though she believes in comprehensive immigration reform, Clinton conceded that the country has to make hard choices. According to Clinton, the country needs to first enact comprehensive health care reform for people in our country.
"I don't think you can deal with the immigration problem we face through our health care system," Clinton said.
In a direct reference to her husband's presidency, she communicated the need to the country back to where it was before the Bush Administration took effect.
"We're going to have to get back to what worked before, which was a bipartisan commission where people hold hands and jump together," Clinton said.
Overall, many in attendance were impressed by Clinton's composure during the speech.
Rovner said of Clinton, "We [the panel] tried to knock her off her talking points, which we all knew, but she was quite impressive today."
Drew Altman, CEO and President of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, said, "We achieved our goal of getting past the sound bytes with these forums. It seems she has clearly learned the lessons from 1993 and is taking a more centrist view and is reaching out to Congress for help."
Likewise, Diane Rowland, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation echoed, "She is showing a real commitment to make it happen this time."
According to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Election 2008 poll, more voters agree with Clinton's health care than any of the other candidates, both Republican and Democrat.
Currently, Clinton is leading other contenders for the Democratic Presidential Nomination with 49 percent of Democratic support. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who has 22 percent of the Democrats' support, is her closest rival, according to the latest Rasmussen Report issued on Monday. Obama has yet to set a date to appear at the forum.
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© 2007 Cornell Daily Sun via U-WIRE