In 1994, faced with the horror of having government bureaucrats make their health care decisions for them, the American public rejected the Clinton health care plan. On September 15, President Clinton told a union audience of his failed health care plan, “What I tried to do before won’t work. Maybe we can do it another way. That’s what we’ve tried to do, a step at a time until eventually we finish this.”
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) scoffed at the President’s comments. “When the issue is national health care, Bill Clinton is like a blind man at the Grand Canyon,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if he takes a big leap or a small step. He still goes over the edge. ClintonCare is too radical and it won’t happen in a Republican Congress.”
Ah, sweet denial.
But in reality, ClintonCare is happening. And the Republican Congress could hardly be doing more to help. Step by step, Congress is signing off on elements of the Clinton health plan that many Republicans railed against in 1994. Some Republicans are so enthusiastic about jumping on the bandwagon that they are sponsoring some of the most anti-consumer legislation of this Congress.
The 103rd Congress ended in gridlock over how to reform health care. This was a blessing for consumers, for the most likely alternative was a government takeover of the entire health care industry Ã³ one seventh of the U.S. economy. Yet because some were still suffering, 104th Congress convened with an irresistible urge to Do Something.
That urge produced a bad law (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA) that will soon require many consumers to purchase more expensive policies and will add a layer of federal regulation on top of already extensive state regulation. Republican Sen. Nancy Kassebaum sponsored the law with Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, who boasted it was a foot in the door for national health insurance. Yet not a single Republican voted against it. The same year, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) championed legislation that requires consumers to buy government-prescribed mental health coverage.
President Clinton began the 105th Congress by signaling his desire to create a health care entitlement for uninsured children, a backup strategy for implementing universal coverage that was devised by First Lady Hillary Clinton’s health care task force in 1993. How did congressional Republicans respond? Did they accuse Clinton of foisting on kids the same lousy bill of goods he couldn’t sell to adults? Did they point out the President was using faulty data on the number of uninsured children? Or did they maybe cite Congressional Budget Office estimates that 40 percent of the benefits would go to children who already had health coverage?
Republicans did none of these things. The most vocal Republican on the issue was Sen. Orrin Hatch, who sponsored (again with Sen. Kennedy) a new entitlement that would have done even more damage than the one proposed by the White House. And while President Clinton began the budget negotiations demanding a $16 billion entitlement, he walked away with a $24 billion entitlement that was supported by 80 percent of the Republican Congress.
Republicans are so excited about expanding federal control over consumers’ health care decisions, they can barely contain themselves. Reps. Charlie Norwood of Georgia, Greg Ganske of Iowa, Gerald Solomon of New York, Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Al D’Amato of New York are but a few of the Republicans who have introduced pieces of the Clinton health plan — the plan that Gingrich says is “too radical” for a Republican Congress. Many of these congressional Republicans even pitched their proposals to the President’s health care quality commission, which was created to design the next few “steps” down the road to ClintonCare. The First Lady must be beaming.
The problems in our health care market are caused by the type of government meddling that Republicans and Democrats are lining up behind. The federal tax code is biased in favor of employer-based health insurance. Because few Americans qualify for the measly tax breaks Congress offers those who buy their own insurance, most individuals end up paying twice what employers pay for the same coverage.
Enter state regulation, including nearly 1,000 mandated coverage laws that — among other things — force Minnesotans to buy hair transplant coverage and Floridians to buy coverage for massage therapy. Enter another federal law that further distorts the market by exempting self-funded employer health plans from such state regulation. The list goes on and on.
All told, government meddling has left us with an uneven and unbelievably complicated playing field in health care. Worse, it has driven up costs and interrupted the market processes that make quality coverage affordable for an ever-increasing number of consumers. Right now, both parties in Congress seem bent on making that problem worse. President Clinton may be a blind man at the Grand Canyon, but he’s not the only one.
This piece appeared in The Washington Times on October 7, 1997, page A18. Permission to reprint outside Washington, D.C., or to quote from is expressly given provided Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation and the author are credited.
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