According to the New York Times:
"President Obama said Wednesday that he was receptive to Congressional proposals that would require Americans to have health insurance and oblige employers to share in the cost. But he said there should be exemptions for people who cannot afford insurance and for small businesses in general.
Despite the panoply of problems facing the new president, he has rightly decreed that health care must, because of its tremendous costs to businesses and productivity, not be deferred while other, seemingly-more urgent problems are addressed. This is the correct, long-term thinking that we need.
However, as the quote above reveals, President Obama may be willing to settle for something less than a true fix for the health care crisis. Such a half-measure at this time would be a tragic decision.
Our health care system is deeply broken. The majority of Americans favor a nationalized, single-payer system. The benefits of such a system, to both individuals, families, and businesses, are manifest and undeniable. To enact something less than full, universal, simplified health care would squander this unique moment in American history where, for the first time since Truman, Americans seem ready to join the rest of the civilized world in terms of caring for its citizens.
"Requiring" individuals who are uninsured to purchase insurance is the wrong approach. This will be a crushing burden on the young, the unmarried, and those just starting out in life. Imagine barely scraping by, barely paying the bills, then suddenly being saddled with a new monthly premium bill in the range, depending on one's health, of $500-$700. Few uninsured individuals will be able to make an adjustment of that magnitude. Under this plan, however, those who cannot afford this new bill will be outlaws and subject to punishment. This is no way to reform health care.
Allowing exemptions for small businesses and those who cannot afford coverage is essentially no change from the present problem. Right now everyone is technically free to buy insurance; in reality, pre-existing conditions and high premiums are an insurmountable barrier for many.
The burden of premiums is particularly harsh on small businesses. The majority of jobs in America, and what will be the majority of new jobs if/when an economic recovery occurs, will be in small businesses. So rather than simply sweeping small businesses and individuals under the rug, these are the primary issues of health care reform.
If the president allows these groups to fall through the cracks of health care reform, if "reform" somehow bypasses the very groups it most needs to address, then this hollow health care fix will be a lasting shame to the Obama legacy.
America needs and wants not simply a larger bandaid, but radical surgery to extract the cancer that is rotting our economy.