Barack Obama's Press Conference

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 23, 2009

I didn’t see the President’s press conference, so I cannot testify as to whether the critiques of the President’s emotional presentation, as offered by Ben Smith were accurate. However, we can look to the transcript to examine the President’s arguments.

For one thing, as mentioned by the New York Times, the President misstated the degree to which medical societies support his vision of health care reform. Contrary to the President’s contentions, Medicare service will be cut in rural areas, and in teaching hospitals. The President seriously overstated the degree to which Republicans were allowed to assist in the crafting of legislation, just as he seriously overstated the degree to which insurance companies are profiting in the current system. And finally, the President’s contentions that he ought to take credit for deficit reduction rest on the absurd premise that ten years down the line, the United States would have as many troops in Iraq as it did when President Bush left office, a premise utterly and completely undercut by the Status of Forces Agreement that the Bush Administration concluded with the Iraqi government before leaving office.

During the course of his opening statement, the President made not one mention of the CBO’s devastating conclusion that the current health care reform plans will do nothing whatsoever to save money or control health care costs for the long term. The President claimed that “you haven’t seen me out there blaming the Republicans,” but he surely authorized the attacks against Republicans from the White House’s political shop and the Democratic National Committee. The President completely dodged Jake Tapper’s point that under the Obama plan, “there is going to have to be some sacrifice in order for there to be true cost-cutting measures, such as Americans giving up tests, referrals, choice, end-of-life care,” not telling anyone why Americans should sacrifice those things, and potentially place themselves in a position where they may receive worse care. When it comes to the issue of saving money through the elimination of unnecessary tests, the fact of the matter is that no one knows how much money is going to be saved through the elimination of such tests. Relatedly, the President made no mention of the fact that Massachusetts, which has a universal coverage system that serves as a template for what the Obama Administration and Congress are trying to implement, has seen costs increase by 42% since the enactment of universal coverage, which has forced Massachusetts to work to ration care.

Quite laughably, the President claimed that because health care executives visiting the White House got photographed, the meetings between the executives and the White House are transparent. This is nonsense. Indeed, ever since coming into office, the Obama Administration has been ditching its pledges for greater government transparency at an alarming rate. Its lack of transparency when it comes to the issue of health care is of a piece with its lack of transparency on a whole host of other issues as well.

When the President praises the work done by the Mayo Clinic, he ought to have pointed out–without being forced–that the Mayo Clinic is severely critical of the health care reform plans the Obama Administration supports. Mayo especially opposed the concept of a government-run insurance plan.

Note that when the President was asked by Steve Kaufman whether he could “guarantee that this legislation will lock in and say the government will never deny any services, that that’s going to be decided by the doctor and the patient, and the government will not deny any coverage,” his answer was a very long-winded “no.” This, quite frankly, ought to terrify people. Instead, he made statements about how doctors would likely perform unnecessary tonsillectomies in order to make money. I have no doubt that there are doctors who perform unnecessary procedures for purely pecuniary benefits. But those doctors are few and far between, and it was patently unfair for the President to slander the medical community with his broad-brush comments.

All in all, this performance should not inspire confidence in the idea of a government-run health care plan. I suppose, therefore, that it is cosmic justice that the health care reform effort got delayed. Perhaps an effort will be made to get the substance right when work begins anew, and as a side benefit, the President’s press conferences can be more defensible.

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