Monday, February 08, 2010

A Simpler Health-Care Summit

In a pre-Super Bowl interview, President Obama told Katie Couric about a televised bipartisan health-care meeting on February 25th "to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward.”

If he hadn't been absorbed in the game, watching Bill Moyers Journal a few hours later might have given him a more productive idea than sitting down with members of Congress who have spent months bargaining and bastardizing reform into a monstrosity that few Americans understand and that the majority disapproves.

Moyers interviewed Dr. Margaret Flowers, a Maryland pediatrician, who gave up her practice to advocate a single-payer system, Medicare for All, of which the President as a candidate called himself a "proponent" and which polls at the time showed approval by most Americans.

For her pains, Dr. Flowers, representing thousands of physicians, has been patronized, ignored and arrested three times for trying to get a letter into the President's hands, reminding him where he started in the debate that has devastated his Administration by disgusting millions, Right and Left, with the political system.

"I was so surprised," Barack Obama said two years ago about Congressional deliberations, "when the voices of those who support a national single-payer plan/Medicare for All were excluded in place of the voices of the very health insurance and pharmaceutical industries which profit off the current health care situation."

The President's surprise has certainly subsided by now and, before he subjects Americans to another dog-and-pony show with those who wrecked his attempts at reform, he would do well to precede it with a televised conversation with Dr. Flowers, who is no politician but has earned a stake in the debate beyond her career as a physician.

It may not move Congress much, but such an encounter would remind Americans of where he started in all this and how distorted debate over the issue has become.

Invite her to the White House and tell security to skip the handcuffs.

Update: The level of serious engagement to be expected from the health-care summit is reflected in expectations from Senators on both sides.

Democrat George Miller says, “If the Republicans’ health care plan was a plan for a fire department, they would rush into a burning building, and they would rush out and leave everybody behind.”

Republican Judd Gregg is worried that the meeting would be “an arena for political theater.”

Just so. Is the President looking for political points to scratch up enough consensuses on meaningless GOP talking points or, at the very least, will he reset the debate beforehand back to its essentials and openly admit that he is settling for crumbs, let alone half a loaf?

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