On Health Care, Obama and Romney Must Tell It Like It Is
by John Corker | Wright State University
President Obama and Governor Romney will square off in their first presidential debate on Wednesday, October 3 at 9:00 PM EST. They will do their best to differentiate their views on key issues like entitlement reform, tax law, economic policy and, most importantly, health care.
Despite their divergent rhetoric on health care, however, their views on specific aspects of the issue are not all that different. This past Wednesday, each candidate published his own “perspective” in the New England Journal of Medicine on the future of U.S. health care.
First of all, it’s important to point out that a few of their assertions in these pieces are either misleading or simply untrue (big surprise). In President Obama’s perspective, he states that under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), “economists” believe that family health insurance plans will be $2,000 less by 2019. This is misleading. There is not an economist in the world that would predict that an American family’s health insurance plan would be 2 cents less in 2019 than it is now, let alone $2,000 less.
However, there are a few left-leaning economists who predict that, by 2019, the average American family health insurance plan may be approximately $2,000 less than it would have been if not for the ACA. As it stands, health care costs will continue to rise under the ACA, and the average family plan will be much more expensive in 2019 than it is now.
His statement that, “we are building our health care work force, recognizing the demands of an aging population as well as the needs of people who will become newly insured,” is just blatantly false. The American health care system is currently short approximately 60,000 doctors, and that is while increasing numbers of Baby Boomers reach the age of Medicare eligibility and before 30 million currently uninsured Americans gain health insurance beginning in 2014.
And the ACA wants to cut funding to residency training programs for doctors. This does absolutely nothing to “build the health care work force,” but rather serves to exacerbate a provider shortage that has already reached a critical level.
Romney, on the other hand, wastes no time in continuing his misleading rhetoric that characterizes the ACA as some sort of “federal take-over” of American health care. The $700 billion private health insurance industry isn’t going anywhere under the ACA. However, this industry will be forced to make their services more efficient and affordable in response to statutes in the ACA (such as state-based health insurance exchanges) that make the health care “free market” more competitive. There’s nothing more American or capitalistic than true competition.
Furthermore, while Romney states that he will “repeal and replace” the ACA during his first day in office, his suggestions for replacement largely mirror programs already in place under the ACA (allowing young adults under age 26 to remain on parents’ health insurance, banning insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, etc.).
And Medicare under Romney’s stated plan certainly would not be similar to health insurance plans for members of Congress. Members of Congress do have a choice of plans, as he states, but they have their health care paid for with only minor co-insurance. Romney’s Medicare plan would provide fixed-amount vouchers for seniors to use toward the medical bills for which they themselves are ultimately responsible.
To be clear, I am not expressing personal opinions about any of the proposals mentioned above. As a medical student, I just wish that the candidates would be a little more honest with the American public. At the end of the day, regardless of who is elected, many programs currently in place under the ACA will continue. Both candidates will cut money from the Medicare program, and both will provide tax breaks and subsidies to those who need help to purchase insurance. And let’s not forget, “Obamacare” uses as its blueprint the same principles that Romney fought for (and now defends) as Governor of Massachusetts (albeit on a smaller state level).
So, in the end, the two candidates’ views aren’t as divergent on this critical issue as they’d like you to believe. And, going forward, it will be important to “fact check” everything both politicians say if health care truly is a lynchpin issue in deciding your vote come November 6th. We’ll get a chance to hear them explain themselves in real time on Wednesday. Here’s to hoping they make our job a little easier, and just tell it like it is.John Corker is the NextGen Journal Health Care Correspondent and a third-year student at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a host of the 'Radio Rounds' medical talk show (www.radiorounds.org).