TUCSON--Half measures are boring.
That political reality derailed Bill Clinton's 1993 health-care reform plan. And it will likely unravel that of President Barack Obama.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finds that Obama's plan, sponsored by Senators Chris Dodd and Ted Kennedy, "would reduce the number of uninsured only by a net 16 million people. Even if the bill became law, the budget office said, 36 million people would remain uninsured in 2017," reported the New York Times. Yet it would cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years.
Americans like Obama's basic idea: "Seventy-two percent of those questioned [in the latest Times/CBS News poll] supported a government-administered insurance plan--something like Medicare for those under 65--that would compete for customers with private insurers. Twenty percent said they were opposed." The support is broad. But it isn't deep.
"Pay higher taxes for a health-care plan that probably won't help you personally, even if you're uninsured" isn't much of a sales pitch. No one is going to call their Congressman, much less march in the streets, to demand action for a half measure--or, in this case, a quarter measure. Without public pressure to push back against drug and insurance company lobbyists, nothing will change.
Like every mainstream Democrat since Jimmy Carter, Obama is a militant moderate, elevating triangulation and compromise-for-its-own-sake to the status of Holy Writ. But radical problems--and the state of health care in America surely qualifies--require radical solutions.
More than that, simplicity sells. French- or U.K.-style socialized medicine--everyone covered, every doctor's visit free, every pill free, every doctor a government employee--might indeed cost three times more than Obama's incomprehensibly vague, vaguely incomprehensible proposal. But it's easy to understand. Moreover, as James D. Miller notes in his book Game Theory at Work, people crave certainty:
"What would you rather have: 1) $100,000 or 2) a 50 percent chance of getting $200,000 and a 50 percent chance of getting nothing? Both choices give you on average $100,000. The majority ... would prefer the first choice: the sure thing. Most people dislike risk, which is why so many of us buy insurance."
When we can afford it.
When citizens evaluate a political proposal, the first thing they ask themselves is: What's in it for me? Thus the appeal of a gimmick like George W. Bush's $300 tax rebate checks. No one seriously believed they would stimulate the economy. But hey, 300 bucks is 300 bucks.
Right out of the gate, Obama's "public option" plan tells the public that there's probably only one thing in it for them: higher taxes. Most Americans do have insurance. They don't like their deny-deny-deny insurance companies, but there's nothing for them in the Obama-Dodd-Kennedy proposal. Some Democrats have even floated the idea of taxing health benefits.
At least 47 million Americans have no insurance. And that number is going up fast. But the CBO says only one out of four people without insurance would be helped by Obama's "public option." The rest would pay higher taxes--and still remain uninsured. Why should they get excited about The Return of Hillarycare?
As president-elect, Obama said he planned to "keep [his] finger on the pulse" of the American people. "One of the worst things I think that could happen to a president is losing touch with what people are going through day to day," he said. But it is painfully clear that "the bubble that exists around the president" has already enveloped him.
There is no true middle ground on health care. The most civilized and efficient approach, tried and tested by the rest of the industrialized world, is fully socialized medicine. Put the insurance vampires out of business. Cutting out the health profiteers and encouraging preventative care will save hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
Failing a comprehensive solution, let the free market reign. True, 20,000 Americans will continue to die each year due to lack of insurance. But private health care corporations will continue to invest in innovative treatments and medications. The city of Hartford will keep adding shiny new skyscrapers to its skyline--and our taxes won't go even higher over this issue.
Obamacare offers the worst of both worlds--it would be expensive and inadequate.
Ted Rall, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, is author of the books To Afghanistan and Back and Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?