WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- President Barack Obama doesn't want to hear it, but his Herculean drive to overhaul the U.S. health-care system doesn't necessarily have to be comprehensive, or even quick.
Over roughly the past week, Obama has made almost daily calls for passing a bill that would extend coverage to the nearly 50 million Americans who lack insurance. The package he wants would set up a public insurance option to compete with private companies. It would aim to control rising costs over the long term. And (among other things) it would create insurance "exchanges" where individuals and businesses could buy coverage. What he wants, in other words, is huge change -- and he wants it soon.
"I look forward to working with Congress in the days ahead to getting the job done," Obama said Tuesday afternoon.
That's right -- days, not months, ahead. Obama is still pressing for Congress to finish work on a bill before lawmakers' August recess, which begins July 31 for the House and Aug. 7 for senators.
But does an overhaul have to be done that fast? And all at once? Mechanically, no, say some analysts (and Obama's critics). Politically, however, Obama has made it hard for himself to deviate from the all-or-nothing course he has set.
"All of the parts could be done separately," says Michael Lind, policy director of the economic growth program at the New America Foundation. In particular, says Lind, cost controls could be tackled independently. Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, agrees to a point, saying there are "down payments" to cost containment that could be made -- through setting up an electronic medical records system or changing the ways in which payments are made to hospitals, for example.
Indeed, addressing costs first -- and universal coverage second -- could benefit Obama, a new poll suggests. Sixty-one percent of voters nationwide say that cost is the biggest health care problem facing the nation today, a new Rasmussen Reports poll found. That's compared to the 21% who believe that the lack of universal health insurance coverage is the bigger issue. Read more.
So pushing through something that contains costs or even expanding coverage to fewer Americans than Obama wants seems possible. Another stand-alone measure could be filing in the gaps in insurance coverage through Medicaid, says Rowland -- although there would still be the question of how to pay for it.