Avoiding Past Mistakes

We were going to do it better this time around.  As the current version of health reform got underway, there was a shared determination by groups spanning the political spectrum to work together and avoid the rhetorical shooting war that characterized the health reform debates in the Clinton years.  President Obama and Senators Baucus and Kennedy set the tone early by allowing all parties a voice in early deliberations.  Business, labor and health care organizations sat down together at the Health Reform Dialogue table.  There have been high hopes that reasonable discussion would yield a bipartisan, centrist health reform solution.

Those early aspirations are being challenged in the heat of summer.  It’s not encouraging that advocates of a government-run health plan have embraced a double-barreled strategy to demonize private health insurers during the August congressional recess.  To the credit of the health plans, they’re not taking the bait and have refused to give up on the idea of bipartisan health reform.  Karen Ignagni, the president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, made that clear this week in an interview with The Atlantic.  When asked about being labeled as the “enemies of reform,” Ms. Ignagni said:

We’re going to continue to work with the White House and continue to work with members of Congress.  It’s what the voters told us when we launched a listening tour all around the country.  They told us they wanted these problem addressed.  We made a commitment, and so we submitted our proposals.  They’re the essential building block of the reform bills…The strategy is being adopted in the Congress and elsewhere is the same old politics.  Find a target, go to work.  The problems are much too great for that old style strategy to be followed.”

Her approach is the right one.  If this debate disintegrates into name-calling and finger-pointing, we’re headed on the fasttrack toward gridlock.  It’s not productive for political leaders to call health insurers “immoral villains.”  And it doesn’t get us anywhere when opponents of the President shout down members of Congress at town hall meetings and prevent reasonable discussion from taking place.

Let’s not forget.  The health insurers were the first group to put concrete proposals on the table, wanting everyone in the country to have coverage with no pre-existing condition barriers.  That was an excellent starting point.  Now, all sides need to put the hyperbole aside and get down to business instead of politics.