Posted by: Amelia | July 16, 2007

The Time Has Come

I took a leadership class last semester that promoted the idea that an issue must “ripen” before one can take effective action on it.  Is health care reform finally ripe?

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times concerns the American health care system, that enfant terrible getting so much press from Michael Moore’s Sicko right now.  Health care has also been a sticking point in the Democratic presidential debates.   The myth that American health care is so superior to what is found in countries with socialized medicine is starting to dissolve.  Krugman attacks the delay-of-care myth in particular:

A recent article in Business Week put it bluntly: ”In reality, both data and anecdotes show that the American people are already waiting as long or longer than patients living with universal health-care systems.”

A cross-national survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund found that America ranks near the bottom among advanced countries in terms of how hard it is to get medical attention on short notice (although Canada was slightly worse), and that America is the worst place in the advanced world if you need care after hours or on a weekend.

We look better when it comes to seeing a specialist or receiving elective surgery. But Germany outperforms us even on those measures — and I suspect that France, which wasn’t included in the study, matches Germany’s performance.

Besides, not all medical delays are created equal. In Canada and Britain, delays are caused by doctors trying to devote limited medical resources to the most urgent cases. In the United States, they’re often caused by insurance companies trying to save money.

I was eleven years old when Bill and Hillary Clinton’s health care reform agenda failed.  I don’t have a firsthand understanding of precisely what in that era’s political climate caused universal heath care to fail, but needless to say the issue was not ripe enough then.  Even the Democratically-controlled Congress didn’t get behind it.

Fast forward to today when even Republican lawmakers are criticizing President Bush for his threatened veto of the bipartisan plan to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  I’m not an expert on the politics of health care, but I would venture to say there’s been a shift.  Which makes Bush’s rhetoric all the more antiquated:

“The program is going beyond the initial intent of helping poor children,” Bush said at an appearance in Cleveland last week. “It’s now aiming at encouraging more people to get on government health care. . . . It’s a way to encourage people to transfer from the private sector to government health-care plans. . . . I think it’s wrong, and I think it’s a mistake.”

I’m not sure that the scare tactic he uses – that more people will get on government health-care plans – will lead voters to the same automatic opposition that it used to.  It’s not that people have suddenly started to love paying taxes to support government programs, but skepticism of the private health sector is, I would guess, extremely high right now.  When half of all bankruptcies are attributable to medical bills, and when “three-quarters of those bankrupted by illness were insured when they first got sick,” people are not going to buy an argument saying the private sector is working.  And they’re certainly not going to buy this:

“The immediate goal is to make sure there are more people on private insurance plans.  I mean, people have access to health care in America.  After all, just go to an emergency room.”

Pathetic. Even in Bush’s hand-picked audience, there were no cheers or smiles at that quote.  According to poll conducted by a GOP pollster, 51% of Republicans are favoring universal coverage these days.  Yeah, I think the issue’s ripe now.


  1. In a related story from tonight’s Newshour on PBS, called
    Senate Looks to Expand Children\’s Health Insurance Program, Judy Woodruff takes a look at the Bush administration’s threat to veto the extension of the low-income children’s health insurance program.

    For anyone interested in the larger U.S. health care debate, it’s worth a look.

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