WASHINGTON BUREAU -- President Obama spent part of his first State of the Union address calling for a renewed effort to pass health reform legislation.
Obama also pressed Congress to pass financial reform initiatives, and he proposed adding measures to increase private retirement savings.
HEALTH FINANCE LEGISLATION
Obama acknowledged that health reform is a complex issue, and that the longer reform legislation was debated, the more skeptical people became.
“I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people,” he said. “And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what's in it for them. But I also know this problem is not going away.... As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed.”
"There is a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo," Obama said.
But, he said, “if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here's what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.”
Earlier, Joel Wood, senior vice president of government relations at the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, Washington, questioned whether comprehensive legislation can be passed this year. He noted that, “at this moment, history seems to be demonstrating that comprehensive health reform is a Bermuda Triangle for presidents and Congress.”
The National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., “hopes Congress and the White House will take the opportunity to engage in real bipartisan, open and transparent negotiations and solutions to reduce costs, improve quality and ensure choice and access for all Americans in a way that will strengthen our health system and our economy," says Peter Stein, NAHU's vice president of congressional affairs. "Unfortunately, the one-sided policy and process of the previous health bills did not come close to meeting these goals.”
For NAHU members, “one of the most important elements of reform must focus on containing the long-term growth in medical care, which is what drives insurance prices," Stein says. “Unless and until we have the resolve to make reforms that reduce the underlying growing costs of health care delivery—whether or not insurance is involved—proposals to expand access to insurance will just redistribute costs and continue to fall short.”
FINANCIAL SERVICES REFORM
Regarding financial services reform, Obama said, “We need to make sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make financial decisions. We can't allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy.”
The House “has already passed financial reform with many of these changes," Obama said. “And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back."
Earlier this week, Obama seemed to be gearing up to use his State of the Union address to encourage Americans to buy annuities.
Obama administration advisors said an individual retirement account proposal will call for requiring employers that do not currently offer a retirement plan to enroll employees in a direct-deposit IRA unless the employee opts out.
Obama administration advisors also have talked about a need to simplify and expand the Saver's Credit, and to change 401(k) program disclosure rules to encourage employers to offer workers genuinely unbiased investment advice;
The administration appears to be waiting until after the State of the Union address to promote retirement savings initiative details.
The American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, is welcoming the possibility that the Obama administration may be about to encourage more use of annuities. The insurance industry is “looking forward to working with Congress and the Obama administration in the coming months on helping Americans achieve a secure retirement," the ACLI says.
James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, Washington, says he hopes the retirement proposals will include defined benefit pension plan reform provisions. “Due to an unprecedented intersection of a depressed stock market, low interest rates and new pension funding rules, many companies are facing artificially inflated pension funding obligations when they should be spending that money on job creation and capital investment, Klein says.