Budget makes healthcare a top priority

February 26, 2009 3:00:18 PM PST
President Barack Obama is making the country's health care system a top priority in his proposed budget. The blueprint isn't finished, but the president did reveal some of the details of his plan for fixing health care. The president has said since the campaign that healthcare reform is integral to economic recovery. You can't have one without the other, he says, with scores of Americans' healthcare costs growing faster than their wages. The healthcare blueprint, part of the Obama administration's first budget to Congress, aims to deliver reform. While most agree something has to be done, the battle lines are being drawn on how to get to that promised land.

The president unveiled a blueprint to universal healthcare coverage in America, saying despite economic calamity, the country can't wait any longer

"Because of crushing healthcare costs and the fact that they drag down our economy, bankrupt our families, and represent the fastest-growing part of our budget, we must make it a priority to give every single American quality, affordable healthcare," the president said Thursday. "With this budget, we are making a historic commitment to comprehensive healthcare reform."

The president is proposing a reserve fund of $630 billion over 10 years to reduce costs and expand coverage that eventually will reach every American. That's funded half by savings through more efficiency in running Medicare and Medicaid and half through new taxes -- including revenue from revenue from a new program: selling carbon credits to manufacturers as part of a cap-and-trade plan meant to slow climate change -- and making families with income over $250,000 pay more.

At the conservative Heartland Institute in the Loop the need for reform is acknowledged. But paying more taxes?

"I think the president is hoping for a lot of long-term savings here, which is basically the only way to approach healthcare especially things like preventative healthcare. Those aren't savings you are going to see in year one or year two, you are going to see in year five and year 10," said Pete Fotos, Heartland Institute.

And that issue of fairness is top of mind at the Campaign for Better Healthcare, which runs a helpline for people with inadequate insurance who rely on community clinics and government programs to help them when they're sick

"If you want to solve the economic crisis that's facing hard-working American families, it's healthcare reform that has to take place," said Jonathan VanderBurg, Campaign for Better Healthcare.

Even if that means the affluent have to pay more?

"Everyone has to contribute, just as-- again, it's a shared opportunity, it's a shared responsibility," said VanderBurg.

Everyone says they're going to get Medicare and Medicaid to run more efficiently. The Obama administration thinks it can do that by introducing competitive bidding processes for the programs that haven't been there before. Overall, President Obama's budget estimates a stunning deficit of $1.75 trillion for the current fiscal year. That's in addition to the money in the stimulus program.