Remarks by the President in Town Hall on Health Care

The White House
Grand Junction, Colorado
August 15, 2009

Question: As a child I had polio, and I had a series of surgeries, 52 of them, to correct my poor structure of bones — between here, Denver, Montrose, and the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. I have been blessed with a good insurance, generally excellent doctors and care. However, my major concern in cost, even with good — even with a good insurance, the cost has been high, practically when I have been gone out of the network. Why should our doctor treatment choice be limited by a geographic area or the state? What kind of competition is this, Mr. President? (Applause.)

The President: This raises an important question, because it goes to the overall debate that’s taking place out there right now. When we talk about reform, you hear some opponents of reform saying that somehow we are trying to ration care, or restrict the doctors that you can see, or you name it. Well, that’s what’s going on right now. It’s just that the decisions are being made by the insurance companies.

Now, in fairness, we probably could not construct a system in which you could see any doctor anywhere in the world anytime, regardless of expense. That would be a hard system to set up. So if you live in Maine, you know, we’re going to fly you into California, put you up. I mean, you can see — and I’m not trying to make light of it — you can just see the difficulty.

So any system we design, there are going to have to be some choices that have to be made in terms of where you go to see your doctor, what’s going on, et cetera. That’s being done currently in the private marketplace.

(President Obama then uses this as a segue to discuss other aspects of reform.)

“So if you live in Maine, you know, we’re going to fly you into California, put you up.”

Obviously, giving someone who lives in Maine the choice of having the option for an expense-paid trip to California to receive health care is not one of the goals of health care reform. That’s not exactly what is meant by choice. This was an exaggeration on the part of the President to make the point that, of course, we can’t have choice.

And the reason we can’t have choice? Because the politicians have decided on a model of reform using private insurers that take away choice by mechanisms such as limiting the panels of contracted providers. He blames the insurance companies for this, but then accepts the intrusive role of the private insurers as inevitable because we “… could not construct a system in which you could see any doctor…”

This bungled response was not because President Obama doesn’t understand the policy issues. Clearly he does. He knows that a single-payer Medicare-for-all program would provide patients with free choice of their physicians. But he also realizes that he has made a policy decision that would not allow that. Thus the diversion into the all-expense-paid transcontinental trip. Oh wait… that’s only for the insurance executives.

Tell President Obama and Congress that we demand to have free choice of our own physicians. No more private insurers’ closed panels that take away our choices.