When I think back to the presidential debate last night, one moment stands out in my mind more than any other. And, no, it wasn’t McCain calling Obama “that one“. It was the discussion following Tom Brokaw’s question “Is health care in America a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?”
Health care came up several times throughout the debate, but here I thought the answers were most telling. This is in spite of the fact that I took issue with the way the question was phrased. Specifically, I felt that the third choice (“responsibility”) was unnecessary and just gave the candidates an easy cop out. Guess which one McCain chose:
McCain: I think it’s a responsibility, in this respect, in that we should have available and affordable health care to every American citizen, to every family member. And with the plan that–that I have, that will do that.
But government mandates I–I’m always a little nervous about. But it is certainly my responsibility. It is certainly small-business people and others, and they understand that responsibility. American citizens understand that. Employers understand that.
But they certainly are a little nervous when Sen. Obama says, if you don’t get the health care policy that I think you should have, then you’re going to get fined. And, by the way, Sen. Obama has never mentioned how much that fine might be. Perhaps we might find that out tonight.
No solutions. No departure from our broken health care system. Just a continued reliance on employer-based health care.
Obama, on the other hand, charts a new course–boldly stating from the very first sentence of his answer that health care is a basic right:
Obama: Well, I think it should be a right for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills–for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.
So let me–let me just talk about this fundamental difference. And, Tom, I know that we’re under time constraints, but Sen. McCain threw a lot of stuff out there.
Number one, let me just repeat, if you’ve got a health care plan that you like, you can keep it. All I’m going to do is help you to lower the premiums on it. You’ll still have choice of doctor. There’s no mandate involved.
Small businesses are not going to have a mandate. What we’re going to give you is a 50 percent tax credit to help provide health care for those that you need.
Now, it’s true that I say that you are going to have to make sure that your child has health care, because children are relatively cheap to insure and we don’t want them going to the emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma.
And when Sen. McCain says that he wants to provide children health care, what he doesn’t mention is he voted against the expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program that is responsible for making sure that so many children who didn’t have previously health insurance have it now.
Obama’s answer provided what was probably the most emotional moment of the debate–when he spoke of his mother’s death–but, more importantly, it was relatively heavy on substance, at least for a presidential debate. And, I’d say that Obama was right on target, although he doesn’t go into a great deal of detail (for more on his health care plan, see my earlier post on the topic). The bottom line is that in a modern, developed, 21st Century society, health care needs to be thought of as a basic human right. If the right governmental framework is in place, adequate health care certainly can be delivered to all. This is not only a moral imperative but an economic one as well: efficiently delivered universal health care saves money over the alternative.
To his credit, McCain certainly makes a good point that Obama hasn’t spelled out exactly what the penalty would be for having uninsured children; however, Obama’s plan is based on the premise that affordable health care will be made available for children through a variety of avenues, so that this mandate should exist solely to push parents into action, and not to punish them.
As Obama points out, McCain did vote against the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program in August 2007, along with 30 other Senate Republicans (Maverick? I don’t think so). Despite this, the bill passed the Senate and the House, but was later vetoed by President Bush. In fact, due to this Republican resistance, Congress had to pass a watered-down stop-gap measure that December just to keep SCHIP from expiring.
McCain was on the wrong side of that battle, and he has given us no reason to believe that he’s going to reverse course and offer any real health care solutions if he were to become president.
CNN has a full transcript of the debate here.