20090819 health care townhall 23
Michael Wolf questions U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., on health care reform during a town hall meeting at the Sheldon Heights Church of Christ in Chicago. - 


Tess Vigeland: Today, President Barack Obama worked the phones to talk health care reform with a group of religious leaders. Tomorrow morning, he'll hit the airwaves on a talk radio show. The health-care debate has come a long way since the administration started selling a health care overhaul earlier this year. It went from a discussion about covering the nation's uninsured to a fight over cost, to screaming matches parading as town hall meetings. Now, some of the president's supporters are advising a return to basics. Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH: With the debate over health care legislation getting more complicated by the day, many people are having a hard time remembering why we started talking about health care reform in the first place.

UWE REINHARDT: All of that is intellectual overload for the American public.

Uwe Reinhardt is a health economist at Princeton. He says President Obama would get more traction if he focused on how a health care overhaul is the right thing to do because it would help every day Americans.

REINHARDT: And the central moral issue, how fair is that that hard-working waitresses and cab drivers when they get sick go broke or don't get care. That was lost.

A broad swath of religious groups are pushing that message. President Obama is talking to them today on a conference call. Jim Wallis is executive director of Sojourners, a faith and justice network that's participating.

JIM WALLIS: In his campaign, the president did talk about the moral imperative of health care reform. So one of his principals is full coverage. We have to make sure that every American has access to quality health care. That's really a moral issue.

But can Americans who already have health insurance be convinced that it's in their interest to help foot the bill for those who don't? Reinhardt says there's a pocketbook argument, not just a moral one.

REINHARDT: You think you are insured. You are not. You could lose your job.

And with it your health insurance.

In Washington, I'm Tamara Keith for Marketplace.