Barack Obama: health care reform salesman in chief

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Barack Obama will take part in a prime time network TV interview on health care next week -- a clear sign he intends to remain salesman in chief for his administration’s plan to overhaul the US medical system.

Selling in the morning and in prime time

Announcement of the prime time interview came shortly before President Obama was slated to begin a lunch hour speech Monday to the American Medical Association convention in Chicago. ABC News said the president had agreed to a prime time interview on health care to be aired at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, June 24. The broadcast, hosted by Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer, will include a live audience and the president will answer questions from viewers. In addition to the prime time program, Ms. Sawyer will also interview the president for “Good Morning America.”

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Obama’s speech to the AMA was a highly detailed, nearly hour-long argument for a major overhaul of the US approach to health care. Calling the $2 trillion cost of the current system a “ticking time bomb,” the President said that “if we do not fix our health care system, America may go the way of GM; paying more, getting less, and going broke.”

A mix of ovations and scattered boos

While the AMA has been skeptical about an increased government role in health care, a report from the press pool accompanying the president said he got several standing ovations during the speech. There were also scattered boos when the President said he did not favor capping malpractice awards. Audience reponse was tepid -- only a small scattering of applause -- when he mentioned wanting to provide a public health insurance plan to compete with commercial insurers.

The president’s impassioned remarks come amid doubts and criticism about the administration’s health care proposals both from impartial observers and friends. Robert Samuelson, Newsweek’s influential economic columnist, said in an op-ed in Monday’s Washington Post that, “It’s hard to know whether President Obama’s health care ‘reform’ is naïve, hypocritical, or simply dishonest. Probably all three.”

Samuelson argued that the current fee for service approach encourages doctors and hospitals to provide more services, especially new medical technologies. “That’s the crux of the health care dilemma and Obama hasn’t confronted it,” Samuelson charges.

A public weighing the risk of change

Meanwhile Stanley Greenberg, a well-known Democratic strategist and Bill Clinton’s pollster, warns in the New Republic that the public continues to have significant doubts about health reform, as it did in 1993 when the last major effort to reform the system failed. “The country divides evenly on whether the greater risk is an unchanged status quo or government reforms that ‘create new problems,’” Greenberg said.

“Obama might want to pay attention to how closely his situation echoes Clinton’s,” Greenberg wrote. “Then and now, more people favor the president’s health care plan than oppose it, but the supporters make up less than a majority.”

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