Declaring the glitches plaguing the new health care website "inexcusable," President Obama defended Obamacare but reiterated that the law will benefit millions of Americans. "Nobody's more frustrated by that than I am" Obama declared, "There's no excuse for the problems".
Embarrassing to the White House though they may be, in the context of providing a national health care program a few weeks delay is less than the blink of an eye. Presidents have been pushing for different forms of health insurance for Americans unable to afford care for themselves for more than half a century.
No doubt to the shock of die-hard Republicans, it was one of their own who came closest to passing a national health care law more than 40 years ago. Here are portions of President Richard Nixon's address to Congress in March of 1972:
"Nothing should impede us from doing whatever is necessary to bring the best possible health care to those who do not now have it - while improving health care quality for everyone - at the earliest possible time...
The need for action is critical for far too many of our citizens. The time for action is now. Millions of citizens do not have adequate access to health care. Our record in this field does not live up to our national potential...
Equal access for all to health care: We must do all we can to end any racial, economic, social or geographical barriers which may prevent any citizen from obtaining adequate health protection."
Ben Stein was one of the young speechwriters who crafted Nixon's efforts to convince the nation to support his version of health care. In the attached clip, Stein says Nixon's plan was relatively simple. Step One: Survey the country in an effort to see who can truly afford to pay for health care, then leave those relatively well-off out of the ensuring plan entirely. Step Two: Go to poor people and say, "If you really don't have enough money for health insurance, we're going to give you a check to buy health insurance."
"Otherwise," Stein concludes, "we were leaving the health system intact."
After initial assurances that his health care program would allow patients to retain their existing doctors, and that premiums would be unchanged for the most part, President Obama's promises turned out not to be true. "Mr. Obama essentially went into a china shop, smashed up all the china then said I'm going to piece it be back together so it'll be better than ever."
Stein isn't shy about the lessons learned from the details of the Affordable Health Care Act, but he says all is not lost. "We have learned something very valuable and that is do not let incompetent beginners meddle with something as vital and as complex as the healthcare system. That's a very, very useful lesson we have learned. And I think it can be fixed. I think it can be put back together, but it's not going to be cheap."
Flawed, expensive, and in many ways wrong-minded, Obamacare is now the law of the land. The only thing to do now is help make it more efficient.
"I think it's better than nothing. Once Congress can get to work on fixing it, I think it will be better," Stein says. "Obamacare is rooted. We're never going to get it out, so we've got to now just make it better and we've got to make is work."
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