30 June 2009
Obama on Public vs. Private Health Care
A lot of hay was made about ABC News's special on health care reform, "Questions for the President: Prescription for America," which aired last week. Many conservatives and Republicans complained that it seemed more like a partisan "infomercial" than an objective news story, and they claimed it showed ABC News's bias in favor of President Obama (see here, for example).
The contrast between the way the media treated the Bush administration and the way they are treating the Obama administration is certainly stark, but that is not what struck me about this ABC News special. What leapt out at me was the exchange between one Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at NYU, and the President during the question-and-answer part of the program. According to this account of the exchange, Dr. Devinsky charged that "elites" often propose health care policies that limit the options of the less privileged, while the elites remain comfortable in the knowledge that they will be able to afford to pay for better care if they want or need it.
Dr. Devinsky then asked President Obama if he would be willing to promise that if his wife or children got sick, he would not seek health care outside of whatever is provided by the public health system he is proposing. President Obama would not make that promise. He replied that "if it's my family member, if it's my wife, if it's my children, if it's my grandmother, I always want them to get the very best care."
Quite a telling response, it seems. It is akin to wealthy politicians who send their children to private schools (as the Obamas do), while opposing education vouchers, credits, or other plans to enable poorer people to have choices as well. I do not begrudge the President wanting "the very best" for his family; I want the same for my family, as I presume you do. But a policy that allows an expanded set of options for wealthy people while restricting the options of everyone else seems, to me, suspicious on the face of it. And that suspicion is only heightened when the elites admit that it would not be good enough for them but that they think it is good enough for everyone else.