The Wall Street Journal reports that the Democrats may put aside the party's goal of providing health insurance coverage to (almost all) legal residents. Instead, they might push for more scaled-back reforms including, "modest coverage for the uninsured, perhaps aid for small businesses, new rules for insurance companies and some policy changes to control federal health spending." To be clear, as the WSJ points out, no decisions have been made, and likely won't be, until after President Obama's state of the union address Wednesday.
I understand the political reasons why some members of Congress may want to put aside the goal of achieving near-universal coverage. Most voters have health insurance, and polls show that voters with health insurance increasingly are concerned that the health reform bills will increase their costs and reduce the quality of care they receive. So the political calculation appears to be: why pass something that is disfavored by a good proportion of the 85% of your constituents that have health insurance, so as to provide coverage to the 15% who don't, many of whom don't vote? Especially since most of the almost trillion dollar cost of the proposed bills is to fund programs to expand coverage.
We've seen this before. In 1995, when President Bill Clinton's efforts to reform health care collapsed, 40.6 million people in the United States, or 15.4% of the population, were without health insurance coverage during the entire year, according to the Census Bureau. In 2008, the exact same proportion of the population -15.4% - went without health insurance, but because of population growth, the total number of uninsured persons reached 46.3 million. The uninsured rate would be much higher, if it were not for enactment and reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which in 2008 provided coverage to 7.4 million low-income kids. The best one can say is 15 years after Clinton's health reform initiative collapsed, we have made absolutely no progress in reducing the percentage of the population without health insurance.
One big difference now is that both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed bills that would cover between 94-96% of legal U.S. residents - the farthest this has ever advanced in the legislative process. Yet Congress and maybe President Obama may be on verge of deciding that the politics make it too hard to get the bills over the finish line.
I understand that the bills are controversial, and that people are troubled by the deal-making that went into getting the necessary votes. I appreciate that people are concerned that the U.S. can't afford to take this on now, even though the CBO says that the legislation will reduce the federal budget deficit. I "get it" that many people don't trust the government to deliver on the promise of better care at lower cost. I know that changes will need to be made in the bills to increase public support, such as elimination of some of the special deals made in the Senate. What I don't get is the apparent willingness of politicians to again throw the uninsured under the bus.
I don't know if providing everyone access to health coverage is a right, but I do believe that it is the right thing to do. I continue to have some hope that President Obama and Congress will find a way to ensure that "the U.S. health care delivery system provides access, best quality care and health insurance coverage for 100%" of Americans, as called for by ACP's vision of a desired future for U.S. health care. Tomorrow's state of the union address should at least tell us where the President stands.
Today's question: Do you think Congress and the President should throw in the towel in providing affordable health insurance coverage to all?