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The latest Obama healthcare plan

February 8, 2010 |  5:43 pm

Obama-BoehnerThe comments on the last two posts about Sarah Palin are starting to get nasty and personal (as opposed to just nasty), so I thought I'd try and shift the discussion to something less controversial. Like, say, healthcare reform.

The Times editorial board on Monday urged Democrats to add more meaningful cost controls to their healthcare reform bill before trying to punch it through Congress. President Obama, meanwhile, has called for Republicans and Democrats to meet with him for an on-camera exchange of ideas about the legislation. Hmm. Now that's going to be productive. 

My guess is that he wants the public to see a real debate over how to improve the system, and they haven't gotten (and can't get) that by watching the floor debates on C-SPAN. That's what happened on a variety of issues when Obama spoke at the GOP retreat last month -- no meeting of the minds but a good exchange of arguments.

Republicans have already indicated that they won't consider an individual mandate to buy insurance (an idea some Republicans used to promote -- and some still do). Because of the adverse selection problem, dropping the individual mandate would rule out trying to stop insurers from cherry-picking customers, which knocks a fairly large hole in that part of the reform. The Republicans' counterproposals for making insurance available to more people would yield barely a 5% increase in the number of insured over the coming decade, according to the CBO.

The Dems have already included in the bill a version of several other major GOP ideas, including some of their tax breaks, risk pooling and the sale of insurance across state lines. So what's left? There's plenty of room in the Dems' bill to use market forces to restrain the growth of medical and insurance costs, so it would be good to see more action there. But I seriously doubt that Obama has any interest in abandoning a comprehensive bill in favor of the more incremental changes favored by the Republicans. Instead, the event seems designed to lay the groundwork for getting the existing Democratic healthcare legislation moving again.

Photo: President Obama and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) at the Republicans' retreat in January. Credit: AP Photo / Charles Dharapak

-- Jon Healey

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