By John Nichols for the Nation

Health care reform is a vital and engaging concern for America – and for Americans.
But you would not know it from Thursday’s White House Forum on Health Reform, which was so narrowly focused and uninspiring that it almost made Hillary Clinton’s bumbling efforts of the 1990s look good.

President Obama sounded some of the right notes:

Now I know people are skeptical about whether Washington can bring about this change. Our inability to reform health care in the past is just one example of how special interests have had their way, and the public interest has fallen by the wayside. And I know people are afraid we’ll draw the same old lines in the sand, give in to the same entrenched interests, and arrive back at the same stalemate we’ve been stuck in for decades.

But I am here today because I believe that this time is different. This time, the call for reform is coming from the bottom up, from all across the spectrum – from doctors, nurses and patients; unions and businesses; hospitals, health care providers and community groups. It’s coming from mayors, governors and legislatures – Democrats and Republicans – who are racing ahead of Washington to pass bold health care initiatives on their own. This time, there is no debate about whether all Americans should have quality, affordable health care — the only question is, how?

Unfortunately, that is a mighty major “only question.”

And the people who in the past have answered it wrong were in the room and at the table Thursday. Indeed, they were bragging about their successes in blocking past reform initiatives. “I don’t see what happened in the ’90s as a failure,” Congressman Joe Barton, the Texas conservative who is the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told a breakout session at Thursday’s forum.

Barton was not an outlier.

The East Room at the White House was packed with the political players, union leaders and corporate lobbyists — some of them good, many of them bad — and a few administration-designated “Everyday Americans,” who helped to illustrate the depth of the crisis that the insiders have allowed to metastasize over the past decade or so.

Only a handful of serious reformers got in the room.

Thanks to pressure from the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Healthcare, Physicians for a National Health Program, Unions for Single Payer Health Care and the Progressive Democrats of America, an invitation was extended to House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, D-Michigan, the sponsor of H.R. 676, legislation that seeks to create a the single-payer insurance program that would take profiteering out of the health care system.

A few other real reformers were heard from — including Californian Congressman Pete Stark.

And Dr. Oliver Fein, the director of Physicians for a National Health Plan was in the room.
But right before the doctor from Physicians for a National Health Plan on the White House list of “Community Leaders and Stakeholders Expected to Attend” were the CEOs of Pfizer and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

And while the doctor was not included on any of the lists of breakout session speakers, the CEOs were, along with representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and the Business Roundtable.

In other words, the overwhelming weight of opinion at what was supposed to be a wide-ranging discussion of health reform was — at best — on the side of tinkering with the existing for-profit system.

Change we can believe in was not on the agenda.

Read the full article here.

1 Comment

  1. Helen Scott on March 8, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Lack of adequate and affordable Health Care is a major problem in Oklahoma that needs to be addressed.
    The President needs as many Oklahoma Residents as possible to support and make Universal Health Care/Health Care Reform a reality. It is time to step out of the third world regimen of allowing citizens to die or suffer due to lack of affordable health care especially because of a pre-existing condition. It is not appropriate to call Oklahoma the state of the child yet the very minute that child turns 18 and has any pre-existing condition deny them medical care.
    Insurance Companies and Pharmaceutical companies as well as some Oklahoma Politicians and physicians profit greatly at the expense of the uninsured or underinsured. It has been too easy in a city like Tulsa that has a large proportion of wealth for physicians, politicians and insurance companies to turn a blind eye to the underinsured. President Obama has promised to change this. Oklahomans should support his promise!