During the June 23 White House press conference, ABC News reporter Jake Tapper sparred with Barack Obama over the details of the President's universal health care plan, bluntly observing, "...If the government is offering a cheaper health care plan, then lots of employers will want to have their employees covered by that cheaper plan, which will not have to be for-profit, unlike private plans."
Although there was laughter in the press conference, the exchanges became pointed. At one point, Tapper sarcastically observed that he appreciated Obama's "Spock-like language about the logic of the health care plan." Tapper's question, about whether the so-called "public choice" option would actually allow employees to keep the current insurance plans they have now, was a follow-up to a similar one offered by USA Today's David Jackson. After the President failed to answer that query, Tapper began by challenging, "I wonder if you could actually answer David's? Is the public plan non- negotiable?" A testy Obama retorted, "All right, if that's your question."
He continued, "You think you're going to- are you the ombudsman for the White House press corps? What's your question- is that your question?" After pointing out how the public option could lead to employers choosing a cheaper, government plan, Tapper continued, "And then their employees would be signed up for this public plan, which would violate what you're promising the American people, that they will not have to change health care plans if they like the plan they have."
Following a long, somewhat vague response, Tapper tried one more time: "I'm sorry, but what about keeping your promise to the American people that they won't have to change plans even if employers-" Obama interrupted and attempted to clarify, "Well, all right- when I say if you have your plan and you like it, and your doctor has a plan- or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don't have to change plans, what I'm saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform."
A transcript of the June 23 exchange, which occurred at 1:02pm, follows:
BARACK OBAMA: Jake Tapper.
TAPPER: Thank you, Mr. President. Before I ask my question, I wonder if you could actually answer David's? Is the public plan non- negotiable?
OBAMA: All right, if that's your question.
OBAMA: You think you're going to- are you the ombudsman for the White House press corps? What's your question- is that your question?
TAPPER: Then I have a two-part question.
TAPPER: Is the public plan non-negotiable? And, while I appreciate your Spock-like language about the logic of the health care plan and the public plan, it does seem logical to a lot of people that if the government is offering a cheaper health care plan, then lots of employers will want to have their employees covered by that cheaper plan, which will not have to be for-profit, unlike private plans. And may, possibly, benefit from some government subsidies, who knows? And then their employees would be signed up for this public plan, which would violate what you're promising the American people, that they will not have to change health care plans if they like the plan they have. So-
OBAMA: Okay. You're pitching; I'm catching.
OBAMA: I got the question. First of all, was the reference to Spock, is that a crack on my ears?
OBAMA: All right. I just wanted to make sure. No?
TAPPER: I would never make fun of your ears, sir.
OBAMA: In answer to David's question, which you co-opted, we are still early in this process. So, you know, we have not drawn lines in the sand, other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don't have health insurance or are under-insured. You know, those are the broad parameters that we've discussed. There are a whole host of other issues where, ultimately, I may have a strong opinion, and I will express those to members of Congress as this is shaping up. It's too early to say that. Right now, I will say that our position is that a public plan makes sense. Now, let me go to the- the broader question you made about the public plan. As I said before, I think that there is a legitimate concern, if the public plan was simply eating off the taxpayer trough, that it would be hard for private insurers to compete. If, on the other hand, the public plan is structure in such a way where they've got to collect premiums and they've got to provide good services, then, if what the insurance companies are saying is true, that they're doing their best to serve their customers, that they're in the business of keeping people well and giving them security when they get sick, they should be able to compete. Now, if it turns out that the public plan, for example, is able to reduce administrative costs significantly, then you know what, I'd like the insurance companies to take note and say, hey, if the public plan can do that, why can't we? And that's good for everybody in the system. And I don't think there should be any objection to that. Now, by the way, I should point out that part of the reform that we've suggested is that, if you want to be a private insurer as part of the exchange, as part of this marketplace, this menu of options that people can choose from, we're going to have some different rules for all insurance companies, one of them being that you can't preclude people from getting health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. You can't cherry-pick and just take the healthiest people. So there are going to be some ground rules that are going to apply to all insurance companies. Because I think the American people understand that, too often, insurance companies have been spending more time thinking about how to take premiums and then avoid providing people coverage than they have been thinking about how can we make sure that insurance is there; health care is there when families need it. But, I'm confident that, if- you know, I take those advocates of the free market to heart when they say that, you know, the free market is innovative and is going to compete on service and is going to compete on, you know, their ability to deliver good care to families. And if that's the case, then this just becomes one more option. If it's not the case, then I think that that's something that the American people should know.
TAPPER: I'm sorry, but what about keeping your promise to the American people that they won't have to change plans even if employers-
OBAMA: Well, all right- when I say if you have your plan and you like it, and your doctor has a plan- or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don't have to change plans, what I'm saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform. Now, are there going to be employers right now, assuming we don't do anything- let's say that we take the advice of some folks who are out there and say, "Oh, this is not the time to do health care. We can't afford it. It's too complicated. So, let's take our time," et cetera. So let's assume that nothing happened. I can guarantee you that there's the possibility for a whole lot of Americans out there that they're not going to end up having the same health care they have. Because what's going to happen is, as costs keep on going up, employers are going to start making decisions. We've got to raise premiums on our employees. In some cases, we can't provide health insurance at all. And so there are going to be a whole set of changes out there. That's exactly why health reform is so important.