As part of our ongoing interview series with presidential candidates, Women’s Voices for Change spoke with Sen. Barack Obama about his health care plan, specifically how it will benefit women and older Americans. Our questions and his responses follow below. Please add your comments at the end.


Women’s Voices for Change
: How does your health
care plan differ from those proposed by the other Democratic
candidates, particularly Senator Clinton’s? Why do you think your plan
is the best option at this time?

Sen. Barack Obama: I have a universal health care
plan that will cover every American and bring down the cost of a
typical family’s premiums by $2,500 — more than any other proposal in
this race. Some of the other candidates have criticized me because they
believe that the way to achieve universal coverage is by forcing
everyone to buy health insurance, which is what the Clinton and
Edwards’ plans do. I disagree. I believe the reason people are
uninsured isn’t because no one’s forced them to buy health care, it’s
because no one’s made health care affordable. That’s why my plan does
more to cut the cost of health care than any other proposal in this

I believe that if we truly want to solve the health care challenge,
we need a president who can bring Democrats and Republicans together,
stand up to the drug and insurance industry lobbyists, and create an
open, transparent process so that the American people can participate
in the debate. That’s how I expanded health care coverage in Illinois,
and that’s how I’ll do it as president.

In Massachusetts, which has begun implementing a mandate of the type
Sen. Clinton proposes, they are already doing one of two things with
the people who still haven’t purchased insurance: They are either
telling people who can’t afford it that they don’t have to buy it after
all, or they are fining people for not buying it. Sen. Clinton has not
explained which of these two things she would do.

WVFC: Does your plan recognize that Baby Boomers are aging, and women, who live longer than men, will need more care for longer and a ramped-up focus on geriatric practices?

Obama: Yes. I will work to give seniors choices about their care, consistent with their needs, and not biased towards institutional care. I will honor and support the family members who take care of their elders. I will work to reform the financing of long-term care to protect seniors and families from impoverishment or debt.

I will work to improve the quality of elder care, including by giving our long-term care and geriatric workforce the respect and support they deserve, training more nurses and health care workers in geriatrics, and researching and training health care professionals to better understand and manage pain.

WVFC: What effect do you think your national health program will have on our nation’s economy?

Obama: I believe the health care crisis makes many American firms less competitive in global markets and exacerbates our nation’s long-term fiscal imbalances, which is why many business groups are now actively campaigning for health care reform. My health care reform plan will ensure that all Americans have high-quality, affordable health care.

My plan will save a typical American family up to $2,500 a year by providing affordable, comprehensive and portable health coverage for every American and modernizing the U.S. health care system to contain spiraling health care costs and improve the quality of patient care. Experts have also analyzed my plan and found that businesses will save $140 billion annually in insurance premiums from my investments in improved health IT, better disease management, reduced insurance overhead, reinsurance and reduced uncompensated care.

I am also the only major candidate to propose reimbursing employers for a portion of their catastrophic care expenses, which has been estimated to reduce private insurance premiums by 4 percent. By enacting a comprehensive reform of our health care system, I believe that the American economy will continue to grow; the federal deficit will decline as Medicare and Medicaid expenditure growth is reduced; and workers will have stability to change jobs, open their own small business, and invest their individual health care savings into education, retirement savings and the markets, all of which will strengthen the U.S. economy.

WVFC: What does your plan mean for women who sometimes find themselves needing specialists whose services are not covered within their current plans?

Obama: My plan will provide more coverage options that focus on prevention and chronic care management — proven strategies to improve health outcomes. Americans will be able to choose to enroll in a new public plan that offers benefits similar to those of members of Congress, or obtain high-quality private insurance in my National Health Insurance Exchange.

My investments in health IT, reducing administrative overhead, prevention, public health and enhanced medical research will also help existing plans improve the range of services they cover because they’ll be able to cut wasteful spending in other areas. Finally, my plan will provide income-based subsidies to low- and moderate-income families who cannot afford quality care so they can access the plans that will best suit their needs.

WVFC: Does your plan address issues of mental health services so vital in the transitions faced by older Americans?

Obama: Yes. My plan will provide mental health parity. Under my plan, private insurance offered by employers and both the private and public insurance plans will include coverage of all essential medical services, including mental health care. I am a strong supporter of mental health parity, which is why I was the chief co-sponsor of Illinois’ mental health parity law.

I believe that serious mental illnesses must be covered on the same terms and conditions as are applicable to physical illnesses and diseases. I do not think health insurance companies should be allowed to discriminate against the mentally ill.

WVFC: How has your experience working as a community organizer at the grassroots level influenced your perspective on addressing the health needs of low-income women, many of whom are raising children and grandchildren on their own?

Obama: I think the most important experience in my life related to the importance of high-quality health care coverage is the death of my mother, who raised me for many years by herself. My mother had ovarian cancer and she died at age 53. She had been diagnosed just as she was transitioning between jobs. And she wasn’t sure whether insurance was going to cover the medical expenses because they might consider this a pre-existing condition.

I remember just being heartbroken, seeing her struggle through the paperwork and the medical bills and the insurance forms. So, I have seen what it’s like when somebody you love is suffering because of a broken health-care system. And it’s wrong. That’s why I am committed to reforming health care in this country.

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  • Janice Necco May 18, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    As usual he talks around specifics. It sounds like his plan is “business as usual.” All he claims he will do is bring Democrats and Republicans together and take on the drug companies in order to bring down costs. Heard that, tried that many times before by many different candidates. I don’t think he can change health care or anything else. Talk is cheap–actions are louder. Hillary has it all-over him in programs, plans of ACTION, and experience.