After Obama's health care speech, disagreement lingers across Minn.by Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — As Minneapolis prepares to host President Barack Obama's health care rally this Saturday, details from his prime time address last night continue to spark debate.
Sipping hot tea in their living room in St Paul, Carlos da Cruz and Erika Bakkum watched the speech closely Wednesday night.
Health coverage has been a major concern for the couple since da Cruz lost his job last Fall. It was his second layoff in the last few years and being uninsured has added another layer of stress to an already difficult situation.
In last night's speech, they were hoping to hear more about President Obama's ideas for a public health care option. They believe health care reform is politically possible but worry about partisan bickering derailing the process.
"I have hope. I have hope but I am more cynical than her in terms of what I expect from politicians," da Cruz said.
"Something will happen," Bakkum said, "Definitely something is going to change because of this. How far the plan will have to be revised in order to get it passed will be interesting to see."
As Obama talked about the difficulties faced by the uninsured, da Cruz saw himself.
"Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy," Obama said. "These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans."
"That's me," da Cruz said.
Da Cruz is one of more than 40 million Americans who are without health insurance.
Obama is pushing to cover everyone through a mix of private and public insurance options. People with private insurance could keep it, and there would be a government-run insurance exchange for people who can't get private insurance.
The president pledged that his plan would not add to the country's deficit and says any health care reform plan would carry a provision requiring spending cuts if cost savings are not achieved.
Those provisions drew nothing but skepticism from Kevin Crystal of Chanhassen, Minn., who says he doubts the federal government would be able to run any health care program efficiently.
"It'll take a lot of money and as a government organization, it's going to be driven by politics and not by profits," he said. "Companies that are driven by profits, for instance like Target and Wal Mart, provide a very good product for a very reasonable price."
Crystal said a true, free-market system would force insurance companies to compete to drive costs down. Crystal said tax deductions or other measures would make private insurance more affordable, without the need for a big government program.
Under Obama's proposal, people and businesses would be required to carry basic health insurance. There would be a hardship waiver for people who simply cannot afford coverage, and 95 percent of the country's small businesses would also be exempt from the requirements.
Obama also promised to help small businesses and the self-employed get better deals on insurance. He cited research indicating that buying insurance as an individual costs three times as much as the coverage people get through their employers.
In Little Falls, Minn., Heather Dehn-Brastad and her husband are both self-employed, and they can't afford health insurance for them and their four children. She's looking for answers.
"I'm hearing a solution to people who don't have insurance but I didn't hear it coming quickly," she said. "There was some talk about within four years putting people like myself in a group that would be eligible for applying for insurance at more like the same cost that employers can get insurance for, but I thought four years would be a little longer than I was hoping to wait."
Obama said it would take four years to create the new insurance exchange, where individuals and small businesses could shop for health plans.
Obama concludes Wednesday by telling Congress: "I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test. Because that is who we are. That is our calling. That is our character."
Back in St. Paul, Bakkum said she's disappointed Obama was not more adamant about universal coverage.
"For me, that is a really important part of health care reform, that every single person in this country would have some form of health care," she said.
Still, she is hopeful the president and Congress will pass some form of health care reform this year.
The debate will come to the Twin Cities this weekend as Obama holds a rally for health care reform at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
- Morning Edition, 09/10/2009, 8:40 a.m.