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”.