The Common Good

My Reaction to Obama's Speech? It's a Start, but I Want More

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There was much in President Obama's speech on health care that I appreciated. He has taken us a long way toward getting to a better health-care system. However, I wanted more. He spoke about regulations on insurance companies: they can no longer deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, drop coverage when people get sick, or put caps on coverage. The president spoke of putting limits on out-of-pocket expenses for people who already have health care and of requiring insurance companies to cover check-ups and preventive care.

I wanted more.

I wanted the president to say that the United States will finally join the rest of the industrialized world and disconnect basic health-insurance coverage from the profit motive. Health insurance companies make money by collecting premiums and paying claims. Now 20-30% of a dollar paid in premiums go to the administrative costs of insurance companies, including salaries, bonuses, and profits.

T.R. Reid, writing in his book, The Healing of America, reports: "healthcare economists around the world say that there's a basic conflict between the principle of health insurance and the pursuit of profit." I wanted more.

I wanted President Obama to say that health care is a human right and as such ought not to be subject to profit-making. I wanted him to say the insurance companies are welcome to make a profit on insurance for medical procedures that are not basic or lifesaving care -- tummy tucks and such.

He spoke of the deficit neutrality of his proposals. He would find savings in Medicare and raise revenue with higher taxes on the rich. I wanted more. I want a consumption tax. I want us all to pay for health care through taxes on junk food, sugary drinks, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and ammunition. In 10 years, when Medicare and Medicaid go bankrupt, we will have to revisit this issue. Perhaps by then the country will be ready for such a tax. However, by then, we will have to put the tax on everything.

President Obama called for mandates. Companies will have to insure employers and people who are self-employed will have to buy insurance. Mandates are necessary. But I want a strong public or a not-for-profit plan. I do not want my government to force me into the arms of the for-profit insurance companies.

Undocumented workers will not be covered by his plan. I wanted more. If health care is a human right, then it inheres in one's humanity, not in citizenship or legal status. At the end of the speech, the president spoke of the character of the nation. His words were important and right. I still wanted more.

I want a universal single-payer system paid for through a consumption tax. I want privately owned and operated wellness centers in every neighborhood where people can see a primary care physician, learn meditation techniques, yoga, Tai Chi, and nutrition. I want the government to pay for this. I want dental and optical care paid for through this single-payer plan. I want my medical records on a life card. I want medical bills to go the way of dinosaurs.

I want liberty and justice for all to include health care.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

To learn more about health-care reform, click here to visit Sojourners' Health-Care Resources Web page.

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