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.


before we get buried that deep in tax revenue debt - FIX 3 THINGS FIRST! ---> 1 - Medicaid ---> 2 - Medicare ---> 3 - Veteran's Medical Care (I am not a vet - it is not my self gain agenda) You people keep wanting to let government do everything ... WHY??? Look at the housing help for the low income got them loans to buy their dream that pushed their limits so tight that when fuel fluctuation hit they had no room to stretch the dollar ... NOW ... they lost their dream for a home AND can not qualify to live in a NICE apartment which REQUIRES a credit check! What do you want them to do? Use Section 8 housing? NOT ONLY IS IT normally in a crime infested area BUT in some places there is a SEVERAL YEAR WAITING LIST to get into the program to Help POOR PEOPLE!! ...... and WHY must we trust THIS program with THAT TRACK RECORD?? ..... and if it is so great .... ......................... why WON'T the Presidents family be covered on it? aren't we just as American as his family is?

William "DOLLAR BILL" McGuire former CEO of United Health Care in 2006 walked away with a 1.1 billion dollar golden parachute and 500 million dollars in options, and people say we don't need a single payer system run by the federal government. Excuse me, but what planet do you reside on?! HEALTH CARE IS A RIGHT, NOT AN OPTION and there should be a constitutional amendment stating that! Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...but how can you do that if you're sick and GET DENIED COVERAGE by these money hungry scum sucking bottom dwellers because maybe you forgot to right down you had acne as a teen or some other stupid reason? Come on people wake up and see what's really going on. You wanna talk about waste in our system? Health insurance companies are supposed to cover people who are sick, NOT FIND REASONS NOT TO PAY FOR THE SAKE OF WALL STREET. The president needs to keep his word on this, or did he use his mother's story as a tool JUST TO GET ELECTED? I voted for this man, but I'm starting to think I've been duped!

Please, Mr. Potter, YOU need to become President Obama's new BFF. Who is he kidding with Ron Williams? It might as well be Ron Paul or Ron Jeremy. Keep doing all you can to keep the dream of a government option alive! I am not ready to give up. Private insurers add nothing to health care other than add a hefty "tax" on all Americans either directly through our premiums or indirectly by taxing our productivity. The costs they add to health care would not be tolerated if they were taxes levied by the government. Try to explain that to your conservative friends.

Right now, the only thing I care about is having somebody pass national not-for-profit health care. If any of you think that health care reform is not an ABSOLUTE necessity, think again. If you continue to keep the attitude of "I've got my insurance so screw you" so prevalent in self-centered America, Think again. If you think the greed driven, abusive medical insurance and drug companies should continue to run a medical insurance system that forces bankruptcy, serves as "god" in making decisions concerning what is covered and what is not, here's what you will have to look forward to: More and more American Companies moving all their operations to other countries so they don’t have to pay for their employees ever-increasing and cost prohibitive health care Insurance premiums. Look for employers who do decide to stay here start dropping expensive health care insurance for their employees causing the 50 million uninsured to swell to much higher numbers. This in turn will also increase premiums tremendously for those still fortunate enough to have insurance. This increase will be passed on to the premium payers. You didn’t for one minute think that these health Insurance companies are going to take a pay cut did you? Already strapped emergency rooms going bankrupt and closing up shop because they must provide medical care to all citizens. More and more Americans losing their homes and filing bankruptcy because they cannot pay astronomical medical bills. More and more Americans losing their homes and filing bankruptcy because they cannot pay astronomical medical bills leftover from procedures that their insurance companies decided they will no longer cover just because they can get away with it. Now that they are sure whose side the government is on they can do exactly as they please. If the current plan which Obama proposed goes through, we will all be forced to buy the Insurance (increasing the premiums we already can’t afford). Do we really need this extra financial burden on us right now? I can tell you right now that I will go to jail rather than add to the coffers of the For-Profit Health Insurance Companies. The good news about doing nothing at all is this: Once more and more people have their health care dropped by their employers both parties will begin to realize that they will have to do something. Shortly after that fiasco happens some kind of Health Care Reform will pass unanimously and without a whimper. Hell, even the RepubNOcans will act like they thought of it first and blame the Democrats for procrastinating LOL. I myself, would like to see it pass as soon as possible so countless people don’t have to die waiting for it to happen. Peace