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Health Plan From Obama Spurs Debate

Posted on 3:26 PM by Sameer Shah



In speech after speech, Senator Barack Obama has vowed that he will lower the country’s health care costs enough to “bring down premiums by $2,500 for the typical family.” Moreover, Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has promised that his health plan will be in place “by the end of my first term as president of the United States.”

Whether Mr. Obama can deliver is a matter of considerable dispute among health analysts and economists. While there is consensus that the American health care system is bloated with waste, eliminating enough to save $2,500 per family would require simultaneous and synergistic solutions to a host of problems that have proved intractable for decades.

Even if the next president and Congress can muster the political will, analysts question whether significant savings would materialize in as little as four years, or even in 10. But as Mr. Obama confronts an electorate that is deeply unsettled by escalating health costs, he is offering a precise “chicken in every pot” guarantee based on numbers that are largely unknowable. Furthermore, it is not completely clear what he is promising.

His words about lowering “premiums” by $2,500 for the average family of four have been fairly consistent. But the health policy advisers who formulated the figure say it actually represents the average family’s share of savings not only in premiums paid by individuals, but also in premiums paid by employers and in tax-supported health programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

“What we’re trying to do,” said one of the advisers, David M. Cutler, in explaining the gap between Mr. Obama’s words and his intent, “is find a way to talk to people in a way they understand.”

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