Let's have debates on reform

July 31, 2009
Bob Keaveney

Could debating the actual issues get us some answers?

With it now clear that Congress is not going be voting on any particular version of healthcare reform until after the summer recess (it must be nice having a "summer recess," btw), and with polls showing public support quickly waning for what's fast becoming known as "Obamacare" (whatever that means), I'd like to propose a series of televised debates on the subject between the president and whomever the Republicans want to put up.

I will even volunteer to moderate.

I'd like to know how, precisely, the president proposes to slow cost growth while covering about 47 million more people, without affecting the quality of care for people who already have coverage, or raising middle class taxes. Seriously, I don't understand most of the bills that are being floated by the various committees, and I follow this stuff closely. For example, yesterday we learned that conservative Democrats managed to "cut" $100 billion out of one of the House bills while also getting promises that rural hospitals won't see their Medicare rates drop. Set aside the Washington inside baseball for a moment. Assuming this is the idea that makes it through the House, I'd like to know: Where is this $100 billion? Are these real or phantom cuts? And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

So it's time, I think, for the president to quit making stump-style speeches and just put his cards on the table. Is it too much to ask for him to get specific and just tell us what he wants to do?

I have questions for Republicans, too. Do they have any ideas at all about how to reform healthcare? Anything? OK -- tort reform. I'll give them that. Anything else? They're terrific at shouting "socialism" but what do they actually propose? They ran Congress and the White House for six years, and we got, what, exactly, out of them (other than tort reform) in the way of health reform ideas?

So it seems to me that both sides have a lot of explaining to do. Let's do it right by having a series of presidential-style debates, on different aspects of healthcare reform.

What questions would you ask the president or Republicans, if you had the chance?

Mr. Keaveney is executive editor of Physicians Practice, a sister publication to Oncology and Oncology News International.