Is Obama Planning to Sign Congress' Health Care Reform Bill with Lipstick?

Over the coming weeks, Americans will find out whether the man they elected their president is just a great orator and politician or whether he is also a great leader.

Of the central features of candidate Barack Obama's health care proposal, he said one thing was essential -- a public insurance option to compete with the private insurance industry that is now dominated by a cartel of Wall Street-driven, for-profit behemoths. Another thing Obama said he would not support -- a requirement that all of us be forced by law to buy overpriced health coverage from private insurance companies.

Many of the people who voted for Obama did so because they believed his health care proposal was the best among the field of Democratic candidates and -- no contest here -- far better than the insurance industry-backed plans advocated by the Republicans.

Obama was not alone in calling for a public insurance option. So did Hillary Clinton, among others. About the only thing that distinguished Obama's plan from Clinton's, in fact, was his opposition to forcing all of us to buy health insurance. "Why should we force people to buy something they can't afford?" he asked repeatedly on the campaign trail.

After listening to the speeches he made in Montana and Arizona and to comments made by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, on the Sunday morning talk shows, I'm wondering what happened to the guy Americans elected.

Having worked in the health insurance industry for nearly 20 years, I know Obama and Clinton were right in insisting that a public health insurance plan is vital to reform. A public plan not only will serve to "keep the private insurers honest," as Obama used to say before he started waffling, but it will also provide millions of people who now have no insurance at all with good coverage at a more affordable price. That's because the big for-profit insurers waste increasingly big chunks of your premium dollars on nonessential things like exorbitant CEO salaries and profits for the big institutional investors who own them. A public plan would not waste your precious dollars that way.

But unless I missed it -- and I even read the transcript of his comments to make sure I didn't -- Obama never even mentioned the public insurance option in his opening remarks in Montana, where he stood just a few feet away from one of the insurance industry's biggest friends in Congress, Senator Max Baucus.

The president finally seemed obligated to mention it in the Q&A session. In response to a question from a man who lost his insurance when he lost his job, Obama said this of the public insurance option, using language that would make you think some well-meaning but naïve freshman congressman just recently came up with the idea:

And one of the options that's being debated is, should there be a public option, all right? (Applause.) And I want to -- I want to just explain this briefly, because this is where the whole myth of a government takeover of health care comes from. And not everybody -- not even every Democrat -- agrees on the public option, but I just want at least people to be informed about what the debate is about.

The idea is, if you go to that marketplace and you're choosing from a bunch of different options, should one of the options be a government-run plan that still charges you premiums? You still have to pay for it just like private insurance, but government would not -- this government option would not have the same profit motive. It would be obviously like a non-for-profit. It would have potentially lower overhead, so it might be able to give you a better deal, should you be able to choose from that option among many others. That's what the debate is about. (Applause.)

Now, what the opponents of a public option will argue is, you can't have a level playing field; if government gets into the business of providing health insurance, they will drive private insurers out of the health insurance market. That's the argument that's made. (Applause.) And I -- that is a legitimate, it's a fair concern, especially if the public option was being subsidized by taxpayers, right? I mean, if they didn't -- if they could just keep on losing money and still stay in business, after a while they would run everybody else out. And that's why any discussion of a public option has said that it's got to pay for itself, it's not subsidized by private insurers.

I don't know about you, but to me that sounds an awful lot like a guy who is trying to talk himself -- and us -- out of the best idea he and many others in the Democratic party have come up with to reform our badly broken, profit-driven health care system.

Less than 48 hours after setting us up for his soon-to-be-even-more-obvious capitulation to the demands of the insurance industry, the New York Times reported in its online edition that the Obama administration had begun sending signals "that it has backed away from its once-firm vision of a government organization to provide for the nation's 50 million uninsured and is now open to using nonprofit cooperatives instead."

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Sunday morning that an additional government insurer is "not the essential element" of the administration's plan to overhaul the country's health care system. "I think there will be a competitor to private insurers," she said on CNN's State of the Union. "That's really the essential part, is you don't turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing. We need some choices, we need some competition."

Her less-than-forceful insistence on a government insurance organization was paralleled by Robert Gibbs, the president's press secretary. "What I am saying is the bottom line for this for the president is, what we have to have is choice and competition in the insurance market," he said on CBS's Face the Nation.

Not only is Obama clearly ready to throw the public option overboard, he is embracing the requirement that we all be forced to buy insurance from private insurers. That means your tax dollars and mine will be used to pay subsidies to the big insurers to provide coverage to people who can't afford to buy their policies, because the big insurers charge far more than they should because Wall Street investors demand that they do.

One of the people who undoubtedly talked Obama away from the public option and into supporting this mandate is his new BFF, Aetna CEO Ron Williams. Williams, who made $65 million off of Aetna's policyholders' premiums over the past two years and who was the mastermind behind Aetna's shedding of eight million members a few years ago to meet Wall Street's demands, is the insurance industry's leading champion of requiring us all to buy insurance. And, of course, without a public option, we'll all be forced to buy coverage from Aetna or one of the other private insurers.

According to a recent article in Forbes, Williams has been to the White House a half a dozen times recently to advise the president and his staff on health care reform. That same article quoted a Wall Street analyst as saying that Aetna likely will dump about 600,000 policyholders during the coming months to satisfy its investors' unrelenting profit demands.

During his speech in Montana, Obama talked a lot of trash about the insurance industry. Don't be fooled by that tough talk. It's all part of a strategy to try get us to believe we'll get the reform he promised during the campaign. Industry leaders are in fact delighted he's denouncing their behavior, because they believe most of his supporters -- who were hopeful the stars might finally have aligned for real reform -- will be fooled into thinking the reform bill that reaches his desk will benefit them more than the special interests with their armies of lobbyists. And they know the nonprofit cooperatives Sebelius and Gibbs are now trying to sell us on don't have a prayer of succeeding. The big for-profits will never let them get off the ground in any meaningful way.

Sadly, I believe the fat cats are winning and that the bill Congress sends the president will be one that gives an industry with an unsustainable business model a new lease on life and a guarantee of unprecedented future profits.

So I hope the president's aides are buying lots of lipstick. He'll need all he can get to put on that pig of a bill.

Wendell Potter is the Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin. A version of this article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.


Wendell, in your CNN article and this one, you tell us you were a PR liar for the insurance companies for 20 years. You fail to provide any names or facts on these insurance front organizations or any of the activities they have done. THis makes your story less than credible. So are you now simply a PR liar for the Center for Media and Democracy? While I agree you should be disappointed that Obama has abandonded the public option, (although today Obama and his PR people are lying and saying they are not) and left you and others holding the bag, this is big time politics and hiding behind skirts and whining is not allowed. Get over it. You were suckered and abandonded by the Obama Adminsitration.

To Jo Jo is Right, You want names or facts on these insurance front organizations or any of the activities they have done? Try this URL: I think it is just what you want.

I have to agree with Jo Jo on this. I, and many other progressives, were not fooled by Obama during the campaign and are certainly not feeling let down now. We knew who Obama was - a centrist at best, 'talking the talk' of a liberal to appeal to the Democratic party's base. Whether it's healthcare or the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan, Obama's policy agenda has been fairly clear all along: more of the same.

I'm so grateful to you, Wendell Potter. The sliver *is* essential. The idea of a participation-mandate without a public option is 11th Circle of Hell stuff. Hieronymus Bosch could not illustrate this gutless reform debacle. Without the public option, all the lipstick in Arabia will not sweeten this pig of a bill. The horror. The horror. Yet there's you, Howard Dean, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Ed Schultz of The Ed Show, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO, Jane Hamsher firedoglake , Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Speaker Pelosi, dear stalwart Bernie Sanders, and tireless others with heart & guts. I call the White House (20 times), Baucus, my Senators & Representative. I send postcards (no irradiation for anthrax). This is the most important ethical & economic issue of the 21st century for America. Your honesty and honor have kept me from despair. I press on, regardless.

The "Healthsteria" that has gripped America is so very disheartening. With the millions of Americans loosing their homes, or finding themselves underwater with a devalued property, as big banks and mortgage brokerage companies walk away with profits and bonuses. More millions have lost their jobs, as Corporate America lops off large vestiges of their workforce, just to pad the bottom-line, and deliver dividends to the share holders. With this economic nightmare that has sent shockwaves through Wall Street, and continues to unleash a drowning tidal wave on Main Street, just the thought of a Healthcare system that puts the care back into Healthcare, offered a tiny glimmer of hope. Then the nay-Sayers began to chant the Public Option was about to throw Mama from the train in her twilight hours. As I watched the Bill Moyer show featuring Mr. Wendell Potter, the former chief corporate spokesman for Cigna, I wondered how many Americans got the opportunity to view this broadcast. I wanted it to be mandatory viewing at all public forum discussions on Healthcare Reform. I wanted it to be broadcast day and night like one of those less than blockbuster movies that cable TV puts into a continuous loop of air time. I tried to reassure myself and say that the American people are not as ignorant as the Big Insurance industry would believe them to be, that they would see clear the smoke and mirrors, that they would indeed pay attention to the man behind the curtain. I tried to convince myself that they would see, as Mr. Potter’s presentation so clearly showed, who was pulling the purse strings, and speaking through these ventriloquist dummies, more commonly known as conservative politicians, and those who now have let the Blue Dogs out. But as the weeks have passed, and the heckling calls failed to die down, what saddened me so is that there are many poor Americans who have been duped by all the fear mongering and have brandished the Anti Health Reform regalia, to the chant of the party line! How I know with all my heart that so many of the well intended Anti-Health Reformists could benefit personally, if not have a dear loved one benefit, from caring health system. Yet, I am reminded that not so many generations ago hysteria swept many as Orson Wells read the War of the World, over the air waves. Should I be surprised by the waves of panic that now sweep many over this modern day War of the Words. How I just wish there could be a young child, who would yell it out, to all of the highly intellectual conservative thinkers and their adherents, that the cloth of the argument that now cloaks the Insurance Empire as being the best healthcare delivery system in the world, that shrouds all those who rally to this rant, is in reality devoid of any substance at all, and will leave all of America naked and openly exposed to the status quo that keeps rewarding big business, as they continue to give the small guy (or the little boy) if you will, the business!!!

This is an article that is so relevant, so clearly written, and so right-on-the-money that it should be put out for mass media attention. But then, so should several other editorials on this website.

Oh right, forgot about the pig. I thought you meant because he was giving us the kissoff!

1. War, as opposed to democracy, breeds corruption & decay. As history proves, war, as opposed to democracy, breeds corruption & decay. As one critical example, medical fraud, abuse is estimated to reach $600 to $6000 billion over the next decade lost to it. Please visit, you will be stunned ! Thankfully, in May 2009, the Obama administration announced a new task force made up of officials from the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services to work on health care fraud. In another instance, as common sense goes, fire needs to prevent ahead, or contain in earlier phase, nevertheless, from what I've learned, the special interests have hindered the budget request for preventive care program in Medicare & Medicaid so far, which has resulted in health Catrina, exceedingly high level of chronic disease and expense, and astronomical cost of overall health care compared to any other nation, as data shows. There is no doubt that in ordinary time, investments in a fire safety system do not go into economic effect, but due to the lack of it, once preventable fire breaks out, it overwhelms the narrow calculation, and even goes beyond monetary value. As the swine flu pandemic shows, investment in vaccine could bring about tens, hundreds, even thousands of economic effects in a short period. Thereby, in an effort to prevent another health Catrina, coordinated, systematic non-profit efforts for preventive care, more primary doctors are of critical importance. Probably that also explains why the successful systems in all free nations are committed to public policy. 2. The savings via removing wastes turn into limit to medical access, rationing, tax raise, and deficit etc via lies. Unlike high fuel price and mortgage rate in recent years as the roots of great recession and bankruptcy of middle class, the severity in the high cost of health premiums has come to light lately. Similarly, in an attempt to hide these painful corruptions & wastes, the greed allies struggle to connect the savings via removing these wastes with limit to medical access, rationing, tax raise, and deficit etc. But, hope should not be replaced with fear, just like people don't have to fear quitting drug. 3. Hope for pioneer spirit, innovation. Interestingly enough, pioneers like Ted Kennedy are changing the world somewhere in the U.S. Recently, GM has surprised the world with the adoption of EV-conversion technology from pioneers and outpaced the excellent hybrid cars. And in spite of the highest annual health plan cost per employee, the revolutionary mandatory-coverage plan in Massachusetts was enacted in 2006 and more than 97% of all Massachusetts residents are now covered -- whereas nationally some 40% of Americans have no health insurance. Even if the state is suffering financially due to the highest premiums, without the affordable public option and removing all kinds of wastes etc, it achieved near universal health program. Today, another innovative, fundamental change in payment system, or patient's outcome based payment reform that is able to turn the profit-oriented malpractices and volume into the patient-oriented value and quality is waiting for a final decision. 4. Enough room for savings. Many reformers recognized roughly 30 percent of all health-care spending in the U.S. -some $700 billion a year- might be wasted on medical abuse, unnecessary procedures, unnecessary visits to the doctor, overpriced pharmaceuticals, bloated insurance companies, and the most inefficient paper billing systems imaginable, and payment reform could solve this problem. Provided the American people pay around twice the amount of the efficient systems, the result is still well below them, the ratio of waste might be estimated to reach far more than 50% in the U.S. Let's be conservative regarding the ratio. Even If as little as 10% of savings such as removing the wastes involving medical fraud, so called "doughnut hole" , the unnecessary subsidies for insurers, exorbitant costs by the tragic ER visits etc apply to the combined Medicare and Medicaid cost of $923.5bn per year, as of July, the savings of $923.5bn over the next decade are possible. And when these savings add to the already allocated $583 billion, the concern over revenue might be a thing of the past. As a matter of fact, some patient-focused clinics in 10 regions have already achieved 16% of savings in Medicare while their quality scores are well above average, with the more expansive, systematic reform than them in the pipeline. Aside from the already allocated $583 billion and the savings of this reform package, 16% of $923.5bn (the combined Medicare and Medicaid cost per year) is around $147.76bn per year and 1477.6bn over the next decade, enough to meet the goal. Please be 'sure' to visit for credible evidences ! Dr. Armadio at Mayo clinic says, "If we got rid of that stuff (waste), we save a third of all that we spend and that is 2.5 trillion dollars on health care. A third of that and that is 700 billion dollars a year. That covers a lot of uninsured people." Please visit for detailed infos 5. Choice between hope and manipulated fear. To be sure, time does not fix the endless greed, energy depletion. Considering the current fuel price is hovering around $60 to $70 per barrel in this economy, supposedly it might be equivalent to the peak price last year while the similar runaway premiums keep on rising, heading for financial ruin. And it is firmly believed if people fail to build a bridge for the next generations, the current generation, too, can not avoid falling off the cliff, as the world-wide overpopulation & immense consumption in conventional energy and the other resources no longer allows waste. As usual, when the positive effects including job creation and savings generated by investments are left out of the equation, fear and scare are left alone. Today choice between hope and manipulated fear lies with people's will. Thank You !

A major reason the Obama administration is having so much trouble defining and defending their position is because of one innocent, little word: "public." If only they'd used the term "Anti-Insurance Industry" option or "Alternative to 8-figure CEO Salary" option, things might be going better. No matter how Obama or the administration spins it, the word "public" has inherently negative connotations. Probably hearkens back to visions of "public" relief or "public" assistance. Hell, these days, people could be thinking of "public" transportation or "public" bathrooms and getting a bad feeling. The point is, this one word, "public," provides the perfect segue for the insurance lobby, anti-reformers, and squawk-radio to label the whole plan as "government -ontrolled", "socialist" , or, for some Right-wingers, "fascist". No matter how negatively Americans perceive "Big Insurance", the notion of a "public" option seems much worse. Even if a public option is the only way mitigate the insurance industry's virtually dictatorial control of American health care, the negative "spin" that naysayers can attach to the word "public" is simply too strong. Unfortunately, Obama's chief message for positive change is lost whenever he says the best alternative to Big Insurance is the "public" option. No wonder he's having a hard time. Americans understand the words "greedy", "self-serving", and "corrupt". Why, oh why can't someone among Obama's sharp staff find a way to define "public" option for what it really is: A viable alternative to everything that's wrong with commercial managed care.

AJ Lester, you aren't paying attention. Everybody in the White House is backing off of a public option and they only mention it when they're forced to. They do not want a public option. They're negotiating away the one thing in the bill that is true reform and they don't have to. They're not going to get a single Republican vote no matter what they do. They're not going to get a single vote from placard waving crazies who don't know the difference between Stalin and Hitler because those people never voted for a Dem in their life and aren't about to start with a black man. So now they're negotiating with Democrats?? No, on something like this, you're either a democrat or you're a pariah but is any pressure being put on these dogs like Conrad and Nelson? No. Would LBJ or FDR let guys like this off the hook on something this important? No way. Sherlock Holmes says when you've taken away all the possibilities but one, no matter how improbable that one is, that's the reason. The WH is getting the bill they want and wanted all along. Something they can call reform but which in reality is a bonanza for the insurance companies and Big Pharma. They don't want that money that's been flowing to the Democrats the last six months to turn around and start going back to the Republicans. They're throwing the fight because Corporate America made them a better offer. Sad to say but not really surprising, there hasn't been a whole lot of change going on since BHO took over. Fooled again.