Partisanship Marks Sluggish Process of Health Reform
When the year began, many observers expected the new Democratic-controlled Congress and President Bush to "make some headway on the problem many voters placed at the top of the nation's domestic agenda -- health care for the uninsured and rising medical costs that are squeezing the middle class" -- but lawmakers "fell back into the old pattern of harsh partisan rhetoric and stalemate," the Los Angeles Times reports.
The Times cites the failure of Congress and Bush to reach an agreement on legislation that would have reauthorized and expanded the State Children's Health Insurance Program. According to the Times, their "failure to act underscores how hard the health care problem is to deal with, and it puts the issue squarely in the laps of the presidential candidates in both parties."
The debate over SCHIP also "uncovered the main fault line in the discussion of broader reforms" -- the role of the federal government in efforts to "help middle-class families struggling to afford health care" -- and "reaffirmed a key political lesson": major "changes can't get accomplished in a divided government without support from all the key players," the Times reports.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said, "A lot of people will say, 'If Congress couldn't pass legislation with respect to children, how could we possibly go on to a broader effort to fix health care?'" He added, "I am still confident there is the capacity to deal with health care on a broader basis, and both sides can secure what they want most: Democrats making sure everybody gets covered -- because that's how you rein in costs -- and Republicans being able to say, 'Look, the government is not running health care.'"
Former CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, a health care economist, said, "If we are going to get to broad-based reform, it's not going to be the model of government paying for most of it," adding, "Rather, it's coverage that would provide help from the government but expect real contributions from individuals, with partial subsidies at higher income levels."
According to Len Nichols, an economist and director of the health care program at the New America Foundation, "The debacle is not a partisan war between Democrats and Republicans over how to cover children, it's a civil war within the Republican Party over the role of government and health policy in general" (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 12/14).