Nov. 5, 2008 -- Tuesday's election of Democrat Barack Obama ushers in a new administration that is all but certain to include some level of health care reform. Less clear is how extensive that reform will be and when it will come.
The Illinois senator has proposed sweeping changes in the health care system designed to provide health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.
But experts tell WebMD that the current financial crisis makes sweeping change unlikely any time soon.
"I have no inside track, but I would bet that in this economic climate it is far more likely that changes will be phased in over time," says Karen Davis, president of the health policy and research group Commonwealth Fund.
University of Michigan health economist Thomas Buckmueller, PhD, agrees that the economic climate is likely to slow reform. "I am not extremely optimistic that major reform will happen, but this seems to be the best chance we have had in a long time."
Obama's Health Plan
Obama spoke often during the campaign about his mother's battle with ovarian cancer to illustrate his commitment to changing the health care system.
He told of her final days, spent battling insurance company bureaucrats who did not want to pay for her cancer treatments. "I know what it's like to see a loved one suffer, not just because they are sick, but because of a broken health care system," he said at a rally last week and at countless campaign stops before that.
His plan would extend health coverage by expanding existing private and public programs with the help of federal subsidies and mandates.
He has repeatedly claimed the reforms will lower the average family's health insurance premiums by about $2,500 a year.
These reforms include:
- Requiring employers, except small businesses, to provide health insurance to their employees or contribute to the cost.
- Requiring that all children have health insurance.
- Expanding Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
- Creating a National Health Insurance Exchange to pool risk and give people the choice of competing private or public health plans.
According to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan tax analysis group, the president-elect's plan, if fully implemented, would reduce the number of uninsured Americans from a projected 67 million to 33 million over the next decade at a cost of $1.6 trillion.
Obama has said he would pay for his plan by rolling back President Bush's tax cuts on people making more than $250,000 a year and keeping the estate tax at 2009 levels, but he has not been more specific. He has not provided a timetable for seeking his proposed reforms and has not said if he would present a comprehensive health care reform package or try for incremental change.