My Way or the Highway

Those of us who were around during the contentious debates over President Clinton’s health reform proposal recall all too well why the White House was unsuccessful in getting reform passed.  Even though Congress reached out to propose compromises and alternative ideas, the Administration refused to accept anything but its own plan.  In the end, Congress decided that achieving nothing was better than passing severely flawed legislation.

Policymakers need to take great care not to go down that same road this time around.  And, based upon current rhetoric, there is reason for concern.

Yesterday, when the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee passed its version of reform legislation, one senator said that opponents of the bill were obviously against universal healthcare.   Earlier in the day, one leading policymaker said that those who opposed the current bills emerging from the House leadership and the Senate HELP Committee were “defending the status quo.”

That’s simply not the case.

Let’s make it clear again.  There is no battle taking place between reformers and defenders of the current healthcare system.  The healthcare industry is not gearing up to prevent change.  In fact, for some time now, industry leaders have been proposing essential reforms to improve the accessibility, affordability and quality of healthcare in this country.  Witness, as Exhibit A, an op-ed that Aetna CEO Ron Williams wrote in the Washington Post two years ago proposing that health insurance be guaranteed for all without regard to an individual’s health status or any pre-existing conditions.

Advocates are making a mistake when they continue to suggest that opposing a government-run health insurance program is tantamount to opposing health reform.  My organization includes 42 of the leading companies and organizations in healthcare, from all sectors and both for-profit and non-profit.  Every single one of them advocates robust health reform

If we repeat the Clintonian error of taking a “my way or the highway” approach to health reform, there’s a good chance that the highway will again emerge the winner.