Obama Administration Shirks its Duty but There’s More Than Enough Blame to Go Around
Quietly, without fanfare or publicity, the Obama Administration on September 24 granted health care coverage waivers to McDonald’s, the international burger giant, and 29 other organizations. As Drew Armstrong of Bloomberg Business News reported, these waivers mean that “Nearly a million workers won’t get a consumer protection in the U.S. health reform law meant to cap insurance costs because the government exempted their employers.” The news of these waivers was not publicly discovered until October 8 and created a firestorm of charges and counter-charges.
In essence, without the waivers, the companies would have been required to provide covered employees with a minimum of $750,000 in coverage in 2011. The bottom line is that the companies simply did not want to provide this health care coverage to their employees. And the ultimate result is that their employees get stiffed, or should I say, deep-friend?
The reality is that the Obama Administration crumbled in the face of blackmail and bludgeoning threats from these employers. McDonald’s and the other companies threw up thinly veiled threats that – unless granted the coverage waivers – they would simply terminate all coverage for their employees. These penny-pinchers took the position that they would prefer to pay a fine to the government for not providing coverage, because it was cheaper than providing the actual coverage. Because the government-sponsored alternative health care program is not scheduled to be implemented until 2014, these million workers would be without any coverage at all, for up to three years.
The companies used the mid-term election campaign to blackmail the Obama Administration into capitulation on the health care waivers. They recognized, and rightly so I would add, that the Democrats would not want the publicity of a million-plus workers losing health care coverage – “because of the Obama health care plan” – right in the middle of an election in which they are already in trouble. Despite their callous disregard for the well-being of their employees, McDonald’s and the other companies surmised that terminating coverage for their employees would put more media and political heat on the Obama Administration than on their own selfish actions.
So as a result, contrary to the intent of the health care legislation, millions of Americans will be forced to continue to face health care risks with minimal and inferior coverage.
Casting a Few Well-Placed Stones
So who do we blame here? Do we fault the Obama Administration for being gutless in the face of pressure from these companies and for making a political rather than principled decision? Do we fault these large, sniveling corporations for being more concerned with the health of their bottom line than the health of their employees? Or, do we fault the Republicans in Congress for their clearly political, narrow-minded obstruction and intransigence to effective health care reform?
The answer of course is – Yes! Yes! Yes!
What we have here is the first of what will be many confusing and conflicting chapters in the implementation of clearly imperfect health care reform legislation. It will not be the last time that we will see employers use loopholes and confusion in the health care legislation in an effort to avoid responsibilities to their employees. It will not be the last time the Obama Administration will cave to political and economic pressure. And, we will continue to see the Republicans (or Tea Partiers by another name) resist effective reform by taking self-serving positions, simply for political gain.
Should we be surprised that an imperfect system produced imperfect health care reform legislation? Absolutely not.
President Obama was so intent on claiming success in the passage of health care reform that he was willing to accept any plan – no matter how convoluted – that Congress would pass. The idea seemed to be that “bad legislation was better than no legislation.” The plan was “we’ll fix it later,” but it was weak leadership and Obama is now paying the price. The Democrats, who dominated Congress, clearly demonstrated that they were no more effective as leaders than the Afghan government. The Republicans demonstrated clear disdain for any ideas that were not their own and they had no ideas of their own. Just being against anything anyone might want to do is not leadership. Corporations were the most consistent and effective when it came to health care reform. They attempted to defeat health care reform and now are attempting to circumvent it based on their eternal belief that “profits come before people.”
And the Moral of the Story …
Leadership starts with clearly defining what is to be accomplished and eliciting acceptance among your followers. For that reason, leadership is most effective when the focus is constantly on the vision to be achieved while the efforts are concentrated on the little things that make success possible.
The vision of health care reform was based on “the right of all Americans to receive basic health care.” Obama failed as a real leader here because he failed to clearly define and gain acceptance of the vision. He compounded his problems losing focus on the vision, allowing the incoherent Democrats in Congress to concentrate on the little things and by allowing the obstructionist Republicans to actually define the debate.
The result was a complicated, convoluted and ineffective plan for health care reform. And, this opened the door for corporations to do what they do best and that is to look out for themselves, even – if not always – at the expense of all others.
The reality is that there are no winners here — especially those who need and deserve basic health care coverage — because America lacks truly effective, ethical leaders and that, in my view, is what is wrong with America today.