Listen closely to President Obama today in Philadelphia — his remarks on health care will serve as a message to wavering Democrats as Congress attempts to finish up the battle to pass reform legislation. But they also will serve as a preview for a broad health care campaign this fall.
It’s true that members of Congress are eager to pass something and move on. But rather than sweep it under the rug, you can expect to hear more, not less, from Obama on health care once it becomes law. Democrats acknowledge they lost the message war last summer and are just starting to tip the scales back in their favor. One way to lock in support from the American people before and after Obama signs the bill will be to clearly explain what’s in it.
Obama has promised Democrats he will be the chief booster for the reform legislation, detailing how it will help everyone, not just the uninsured. As I reported recently, Senate Democrats have been given a set of talking points that directly deal with how people with insurance will be helped by the measure, something that aides believe is critical to boosting public support for the plan.Aides say that today Obama will use recent reports about insurance company profits and more massive rate hikes expected from the top insurers. He’ll offer a similar message Wednesday in St. Louis.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is hosting a conference call today to outline the reports, just a few days after she summoned the nation’s top insurers to the White House.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer offered a bit of a preview this weekend here, detailing the reports about big insurance and making the case for finishing up the legislative fight.
“[E]nacting reform – with its protections against unreasonable rate increases and guarantees that more of your money will go toward care, not profits – would mean that Wellpoint and others like it would have to change their ways. Which, of course, is what reform is all about,” Pfeiffer wrote. “It’s time to get this done.”
White House aides say that Obama’s campaign would be “energetic and aggressive” this fall, and the administration may even craft a stimulus program-like Web site to show people what reform means for them. Earlier this year Obama told House Democrats he would be “waging a great campaign from one end of the country to the other,” before the midterm elections this fall.
Late update: Here’s an excerpt from Obama’s speech, released by the White House:
Every year, insurance companies deny more people coverage because they have a pre-existing condition. Every year, they drop more people’s coverage when they’re sick and need it most. Every year, they raise premiums higher and higher. Just last month, Anthem Blue Cross in California tried to jack up rates by nearly 40%. In my home state of Illinois rates are going up by as much as 60%. And you just heard from Leslie, who was hit with a 100% rate increase. 100%. One letter from her insurance company and her premiums doubled. Just like that.
You see, these insurance companies have made a calculation. The other day, on a conference call organized by Goldman Sachs, an insurance broker told Wall Street investors that insurance companies know they will lose customers if they keep raising premiums. But since there’s so little competition in the insurance industry, they’re ok with people being priced out of health insurance because they’ll still make more by raising premiums on the customers they have. And they will keep doing this for as long as they can get away with it.
So how much higher do premiums have to rise until we do something about it? How many more Americans have to lose their health insurance? How many more businesses have to drop coverage? How many more years can the federal budget handle the crushing costs of Medicare and Medicaid? When is the right time for health insurance reform?