A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

A Question Not Ignored


Q: Did Obama ignore the question when asked if he’d give up his own coverage and switch to a proposed new "universal" plan?

A: Obama wasn’t asked that question, as wrongly claimed in a chain e-mail. And he responded at length to the question he was actually asked.

FULL QUESTION

This came from the Internet. Is this true or false?

Universal Health Care Program
YESTERDAY ON THE "ABC. OBAMA SPECIAL ON HEALTH CARE"……OBAMA WAS ASKED:
"MR. PRESIDENT WILL YOU AND YOUR FAMILY GIVE UP YOUR CURRENT HEALTH CARE PROGRAM AND JOIN THE NEW "UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE PROGRAM" THAT THE REST OF US WILL BE ON ????…..

OBAMA IGNORED THE QUESTION AND DIDN’T ANSWER IT !!!…..A NUMBER OF SENATORS WERE ASKED THE SAME QUESTION AND THERE RESPONSE WAS…WE WILL THINK ABOUT IT !!!!

IT WAS ALSO ANNOUNCED TODAY ON THE NEWS THAT THE "KENNEDY HEALTH CARE BILL"….
HAS WRITTEN INTO IT THAT CONGRESS WILL BE ( FROM THIS GREAT HEALTH CARE PLAN)..EXEMPT !!!!!

HOW ABOUT THOSE APPLES…..NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR OBAMA OR CONGRESS…..
BUT "OK" FOR THE REST OF US ?

FULL ANSWER

This chain e-mail has been circulating since shortly after the president appeared on a nationally televised "health care forum" in the East Room of the White House on June 24. ABC News televised the first hour of the event in prime time, and the final 30 minutes on its "Nightline" program the same night.

The claim made in this message is false. The question the president was asked was much different: A physician asked the president what he would do if he was covered by a federal plan, and if a family member needed something that was not covered:

Dr. Orrin Devinsky: Yes, in the past, politicians who have sought to reform health care have tried to limit costs by reducing tests, access to specialists, but they’ve not been good at taking their own medicine. When they or their family members get sick, they often get extremely expensive evaluations and expert care.

If a national health plan was approved and your family participated, and, President Obama, if your wife or your [daughter] became seriously ill, and things were not going well, and the plan physicians told you they were doing everything that reasonably could be done, and you sought out opinions from some medical leaders and major centers, and they said there’s another option that you should – should pursue, but it was not covered in the plan, would you potentially sacrifice the health of your family for the greater good of insuring millions? Or would you do everything you possibly could as a father and husband to get the best health care and outcome for your family?

Furthermore, Obama did not ignore the question. He answered it at length. Here’s his entire response:

Obama: Well, first of all, doctor, I think it’s a terrific question, and it’s something that touches us all personally, especially when you start talking about end-of-life care. As some of you know, my grandmother recently passed away, which was a very painful thing for me. She’s somebody who helped raise me. But she’s somebody who contracted what was diagnosed as terminal cancer. There was unanimity about that. They expected that she’d have six to nine months to live. She fell and broke her hip. And then the question was, does she get hip replacement surgery, even though she was fragile enough that they weren’t sure how long she would last, whether she could get through the surgery. I think families all across America are going through decisions like that all the time. And you’re absolutely right that, if it’s my family member, it’s my wife, if it’s my children, if it’s my grandmother, I always want them to get the very best care.

But here’s the problem that we have in our current health care system, is that there is a whole bunch of care that’s being provided that every study, every bit of evidence that we have indicates may not be making us healthier.

ABC’s Charles Gibson: But you don’t know what that test is.

Obama: Well, oftentimes we do, though. There are going to be situations where there are going to be disagreements among experts, but often times we do know what makes sense and what doesn’t. And this is just one aspect of what is a broader issue.

And if I could just pull back just for a second, understand that the status quo is untenable, which is why you saw – even though we’ve got Republicans, Democrats, independents, people from all parts of the health care sector represented here, everybody understands we can’t keep doing what we’re doing.

It is bankrupting families. I get letters every single day from people who have worked hard and don’t have health insurance. It is bankrupting businesses who are frustrated that they can’t provide the same kind of insurance that they used to provide to their employees. And it’s bankrupting our government at the state and federal level.

So we know things are going to have to change. One aspect of it, the doctor identified, is, can we come up with ways that don’t prevent people from getting the care they need, but also make sure that because of all kinds of skewed incentives, we are getting a lot of quantity of care, but we’re not getting the kind of quality that we need.

Obama’s answer might fairly be criticized for failing to respond directly to the hypothetical question he was asked, but he didn’t ignore the issue raised by the questioner. The president did not say what exactly he might do should a family member be turned down for some treatment. Instead he defended the idea of favoring some treatments over others when "experts" agree.

 Obama and Congress "Exempt"?

The message goes on to claim that a Senate health care bill that contains a federal plan would make members of Congress "exempt" from a "universal health care plan."

The claim echos a June 24 opinion item posted by Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, who wrote that page 114 of a bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts "would specifically exempt Members of Congress from many of [the Obama plan’s] provisions." Fund refers to a draft of the Kennedy bill posted on the Web site of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Language on page 114 says that anyone on Medicare, Medicaid, the military’s Tricare insurance program, or federal employees covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits program (which includes members of Congress) are not "qualified persons" entitled to purchase "affordable" private insurance plans offered through new state-by-state "gateway" organizations. This means members of Congress would not be allowed to sign up for any new plan offered by the federal government or for the private health plans offered to the public through state "gateway" organizations. But then, the gateways would be set up for individuals and small firms – others with employer-sponsored coverage would not be allowed to participate, too.

Fund stated that the Kennedy legislation’s goal is "to restrict care for the general public in order to control costs." The committee’s Democratic majority disagrees, saying cost reductions will be accomplished "through stronger prevention, better quality of care and use of information technology." We remain skeptical of both claims, but can’t judge which side is closer to the truth. As of Aug. 19, the Senate committee had not made the actual language of the bill public, even though it was approved July 15, more than a month earlier. That means we don’t yet know exactly what the bill says, much less how it might work out in practice once enacted. The panel’s ranking Republican member, Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, officially objected to the delay in a letter he released July 30.

Before the committee approved the still-not-public bill, it narrowly adopted a Republican amendment to require members of Congress to enroll in whatever "public plan" is passed to compete with private insurance companies, according to a report by the WSJ’s Fund. Forcing House and Senate members to participate in a federal plan (intended mainly for those who don’t have and can’t afford private insurance) is a separate matter from allowing them to purchase private insurance through "gateway" organizations. But for the moment, at least, members of Congress are not "exempt" from a public plan in the Senate bill. 

-Brooks Jackson

Sources

"Questions for the President: Prescription for America." Transcript. ABC News’ Health Care Forum with President Obama. 24 Jun 2009.

Fund, John. "Beware Obamacare’s Fine Print." Wall Street Journal On the Trail Blog. 24 Jun 2009.

Fund, John. "A Prescription for the Goose…" Wall Street Journal On the Trail Blog. 16 Jul 2009.

"In Historic Vote, HELP Committee Approves the Affordable Health Choices Act." Press Release. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. 15 Jul 2009.