Obama criticizes Edwards, Clinton health care plans

I think Barack Obama made a mistake earlier this year by proposing a health care plan that was less than universal. First Edwards and later Clinton outflanked him on that issue with proposals that would cover every American.

So speaking to voters in Council Bluffs, Obama made the case against mandatory health care insurance:


Health care insurance should not become a government mandate, Barack Obama said here today, referencing plans posed by John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.

Obama said such mandates for health care coverage is a wrong step. He told a crowd of about 350 people at Thomas Jefferson High School that his plan would lower costs on average by about $2,500 per family, making health care affordable for all without placing demands.

He compared Clinton and Edwards’ proposed mandates to car insurance, noting that some states with required auto insurance still have a pocket of 15 or more percent that still go without coverage even though it’s illegal.

“Their essential argument is the only way to get everybody covered is if the government forces you to buy health insurance. If you don’t buy it, then you’ll be penalized in some way,” Obama said. “What I have said repeatedly is that the reason people don’t have health insurance isn’t because they don’t want it, it’s because they can’t afford it.”

Of course many of the uninsured cannot afford coverage now, but many are currently uninsurable, which would change with better regulation of insurance companies and more options for the public (such as letting people buy into a public plan).

Also, the Edwards and Clinton plans include many things that would lower premium costs, making it easier for more people to afford coverage.

The experts on health care policy say you need mandates to get everyone covered. But even leaving that aside, Obama ignores the fact that the president has to set the bar very high in terms of what he asks Congress to pass.

Maybe a comprehensive universal health care plan would not pass during the first year of the next administration. But you don't take the compromise that you might need to settle for and make that your starting offer to Congress.


I have written about this before. My biggest concern about Obama as potential president is that in his desire to appear post-partisan and conciliatory, he would give half the game away before negotiations with the other side begin.

If Obama won't even submit a universal plan to Congress, then what he would get out of Congress would be even less than what he is advocating.

Now, the conservative New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper has praised Obama's health care plan as “a smaller pill to swallow” (hat tip to MyDD user “silver spring,” a Clinton supporter). Of course, conservatives would prefer not to do anything to expand health care coverage. If I'm running for president in the Democratic primary, I don't think I want Republicans praising my health care plan because it does less than other Democrats' plans.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein, one of the blogosphere's leading wonks on health care policy, weighs in on “Obama's excuse”.

  • What Obama fails to say or understand is

    that every other country that offers universal care has mandates.  It is not possible to provide health care for everyone without mandates.  There are many ways to “enforce” mandates.  One way that Canada uses is that you pay through income tax process. 

    One way on how it could be done is if you have purchased a plan it shows up on the income tax form, if not, then you pay for a public plan.  If your income is at a certain level you get subsidies or you don’t pay.  There are a number of ways to deal with it without it becoming an enforcement nightmare.

    The highest rate that Canadians pay is about $1000 per year (not per month) for those earning $100,000 or more.  Everyone else is scaled for lower premiums and taxes pay for much of the infrastructure.  This is very affordable and there is no objection to paying one’s fair share.

    • What pioneer failst to understand

      are all the European universal care systems I’m familiar with.  I obviously am not familiar with every country, but the ones I know about aren’t systems based on any kind of actual insurance program.  They are not “single payer” programs from that perspective.  When you go to the doctor in those countries, there is no insurance of any kind to deal with.  You may have a nominal copay to keep the lonely elderly folks from going to the doctor just for some human interaction, but otherwise the doctors and facilities in the system are paid for through taxes.  There are no mandates.  If you live in the society and pay taxes, you are supporting the system.

      Desmoinesdem, I understand you have lived in Europe.  What is your experience with the health care system(s) you have dealt with?

      I do understand where desmoinesdem is coming from in her dislike of Obama and his willingness to compromise.  However, I think the reality is that to pass something as comprehensive as healthcare reform, we must have a plan that a decent number of R’s are willing to support.  And we need to have a president who can get those R’s on board.  With that in mind, I doubt Hillary or Edwards can deliver us anything.  Obama may have a chance to pass something that at least improves our health care system.  Also, Obama’s comments about the mandates are very valid.  As long as we have a system based largely on private insurance policies, it is a real problem, no matter what Hillary or Edwards say. 

      If you just go with the best health care plan (as a concept), Kucinich is obviously our guy.  But I think we all know that ain’t gonna happen.

      • I was fortunate never to be very sick

        during the years I lived in Europe. I did follow the news on the UK health care system when I lived there. Clearly they have some problems with waiting times and disparate quality of care depending on where you live, but they don’t have a large proportion of their population going without basic health care either.

        My understanding is that of the European health care systems, France has the best combination of good care and relatively low costs as a proportion of GDP. The UK doesn’t do nearly as well as several other European Union countries by this measure.

        When I lived in Europe, I kept paying premiums to keep up my U.S. health insurance policy during that time, because I was afraid that if I developed a health problem I would be uninsurable when I moved back to the U.S.

        A European citizen living in America would never have to worry about developing a pre-existing condition that would give insurance companies an excuse to deny coverage.

      • the Rs will fight any health care plan

        just like they did in 1993. You don’t make your starting offer something you hope Rs will sign onto. That is just naive.

  • Obama the question mark

    “My biggest concern about Obama as potential president is that in his desire to appear post-partisan and conciliatory, he would give half the game away before negotiations with the other side begin.”

    I share that concern. More than anything, I believe he is untested. So many people are supporting Obama based on their own values and aspirations that believe Obama shares as well. If they are right, he’ll be a great President. But it is all a giant guess. I don’t think the future of our nation should be placed in the hands of someone based on a guess.

    • I agree with you

      and the Obama campaign is encouraging people to support him based on their own values and aspirations.

      The Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Obama precinct captain was canvassing my neighborhood and left a brochure at our door. It included this passage:

      I’m not just asking you to believe in my ability to change this country, I’m asking you to believe in yours. Make this campaign a vehicle for your hopes, for your dreams, for your sense of what America can be.

      I’m supposed to view the Obama campaign as a vehicle for all of my dreams and aspirations?

      I know others are really inspired by this kind of rhetoric, but it leaves me cold. I guess it is a personality thing.

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