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Obama scripts town-hall meeting on health care. What would Bush say?

Remember when public opinion turned so dramatically against the Iraq war that the White House only let invited guests attend George W. Bush's out-of-town speeches?

Well it seems like the same thing might be happening to President Obama's healthcare proposal.

As the Ticket reported yesterday, Obama answered questions at a town hall at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Va., about protecting the uninsured, giving consumers a public option and converting medical records from paper to digital files. The White House portrayed the town-hall meeting as one in a series of public outreach events, a way for the president to keep his finger on the pulse of public opinion, and in turn to sway Americans on the complex and contentious issue.

This morning, the Washington Post is reporting that "of the seven questions the president answered, four were selected by his staff from videos submitted to the White House Web site or from those responding to a request for 'tweets.' " And the three audience members he called on randomly? The Post says "all turned out to be members of groups with close ties to his administration: the Service Employees International Union, Health Care for America Now, and Organizing for America, which is a part of the Democratic National Committee."

None of this would surprise any good White House advance staffer. Better to control the crowd, screen the questions, anticipate the topics. And, to be fair, a college campus in a Democratic county might be expected to produce friendly questioners.

The problem is that Obama himself made an issue of transparency, promising an administration that allowed the public to see what its government was doing. In fact on Jan. 22, his first full day in office, Obama issued a series of executive orders instructing government agencies to open their files, saying, "Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

So, naturally, reporters jumped on the apparent discrepancy, led by veteran Helen Thomas, a thorn in the side to many a presidential administration, and CBS' Chip Reid. See what you think.


White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, deflecting the criticism, protested that the White House was not trying to manage the questions. Thomas reminded him that the Obama administration, unlike its predecessors, calls reporters the night before a press conference to tell them they will be called on, a new way of managing the topics.

Waving off the criticism and arguing that the healthcare forum would be expansive, Gibbs asked the reporters how they could make the case that the White House is muffling dissent when "you haven't heard the questions."

"It doesn't matter. It's the process," Reid argued. "Even if there's a tough question, it's a question coming from somebody who was invited or who was screened or the question was screened."

With the president's popularity dropping from his stratospheric inaugural highs -- the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll this week found that Americans are evenly split, 48 to 48%, on how Obama is handling the deficit -- the White House may be just trying to improve his standing by controlling the optics.

Saving his healthcare plan might prove more difficult.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Comments () | Archives (6)

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"Remember when public opinion turned so dramatically against the Iraq war that the White House only let invited guests attend George W. Bush's out-of-town speeches?"

Actually, what I remember is when the White House only let inivted guests attend George W. Bush's out-of-town speeches, and GOP lickspittles posing as journalists -- like Johanna Neuman here -- kept silent about it.

That's what I remember.

the venerable leftie WH reporter Helen Thomas, joined Chip Reid (CBS News) in.., well being a reporter for once.

Here's what will be censored in the national media. In summary of the heated exchange with the adolescent President Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, Helen Thomas made this summary statement:

"Nixon didn’t try to do that. They couldn’t control [the media]. They didn’t try that. What the hell do they think we are, puppets? They’re supposed to stay out of our business. They are our public servants. We pay them. ... I’m not saying there has never been managed news before, but this is carried to fare-thee-well--for the town halls, for the press conferences. It’s blatant. They don’t give a damn if you know it or not. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame."

We had better listen up - this power grab by this power hungry gang must be stopped.

Why confuse the meeting with random unrehearsed salient questions. Obama is sticking to his campaign promise of transparency, unfortunately it is only transparent on his side of the rostrum and not on the other side. Stock on smoke and mirrors just went up 100%.

Things will get better especially if you are a terminally ill cancer patient and you won't give a damn what the hell happens to this country.

Veritas Jim

May God bless Helen Thomas for trying to keep Obama honest! The American people demand transparency, honesty and integrity in the White House!

Healthcare reform proposed by the Federal Government may actually eliminate affordable medical insurance from the private sector entirely. While publicly funded healthcare may seem to create affordable medical insurance for more Americans, it may actually create a bigger problem.

Private medical insurance is not the enemy of affordable healthcare in the US. In fact, if the federal government creates another public healthcare program, it will ultimately raise the costs of private medical insurance to exorbitant levels. While the idea of expanded public healthcare may seem to be the answer to affordable medical insurance, it could be the end of private insurance altogether. Medicare and Medicaid, the two public health programs currently in effect, cost private insurance companies - and by extension, Americans paying premiums for private insurance- $88 billion in 2007, according to the consulting group Milliman, Inc. In fact, the average family of four with private medical insurance saw their premiums increase $1500 because of public programs. In California alone, that represents nearly 10% of every premium dollar paid.

The problem comes because Medicare and Medicaid pay as much as 15% to 30% less than private insurance companies on every doctor and hospital bill. Because the doctors and hospitals aren't willing or able to accept this much loss, they push those losses onto private insurance companies, who, in turn, shift the loss to the consumer through higher premiums.

Private insurance companies must not only cover their costs and earn a profit; they also need to maintain a reserve of cash to pay out claims. If a new public health care program is developed and then pays medical costs at a reduced rate like the current systems do, it means there will be an increase in expense shifted onto private insurance to make up the difference. This increased cost will need to be offset through higher premiums for the people covered under private medical insurance plans. As those who have private insurance become forced to pay increasingly higher premiums, the number of Americans who no longer find private insurance an affordable health coverage option will increase. Those people will then need to turn to the newly formed public healthcare program and will then become part of the increased costs passed on to private insurance by underpaid doctors and hospitals.

As more unpaid costs from private health insurance continue to be pushed into premium prices and more people become unable to pay those premiums, eventually private health insurance will be completely unable to compete with public programs and will face the inability to stay in business. Affordable healthcare in the private sector will become impossible to find.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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