28 January 2007

Hillary's plan

The NYT article on Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan is already a week old and behind their firewall, but here's part of what it says:

Mrs. Clinton’s proposed legislation would renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides money to states to cover children under 18 whose families earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. The 10-year-old program, which now covers four million children, is to expire this fall. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) plans to introduce a similar bill.

Mrs. Clinton’s legislation would raise the income eligibility limit so that more children could enroll. In New York a family of four earning $75,000 would qualify. The bill would allow any family, as well as employers, to buy insurance.

Members of the senator’s staff said they were still working out the cost of the proposal. About 8.3 million Americans under 18 do not have health care, but about 70 percent of them are already eligible for Medicaid or for the program Mrs. Clinton seeks to expand.

This is pretty much what she said yesterday to a campaign crowd in Iowa. The news reports focused on what she did and didn't say about Iraq. Here's the most striking part of what she did and didn't say about healthcare:

In discussing the need for a consensus, Sen. Clinton said that all the players needed to come together — families, hospitals, doctors, people of faith, employers — and find a solution to the mess. Missing from her list were insurers. I don't think she would do that accidentally.

Has she heard the voices who say she would have been better off simply pushing for a single-payer system back in 1994 when they had the chance? Does she feel burned by the insurance industry? She should — she bent over backwards to include them in the Clinton Health Plan, and they turned on her. Greed will out.

At the same time, that's a lot of money for a pragmatic centrist (aka conservative) like Sen. Clinton to turn her back on. She might have simply left out "insurance companies" as a message: "Send more money asap and I'll mention you next time." Is that too cynical a suspicion?

The Democratic candidates have to know that the insurance industry and their allies, beginning with Big Pharma, will bring out their big guns in the 2008 election. That fire power could be used against targeted Democratic primary candidates, but then could be turned against the winning Dem in the general election. Or a clever Democratic candidate might strike a bargain with the for-profit healthcare industry that would admit some change — a little change, in order to stave off true reform. For instance, a candidate might push a plan that would cover more children at mostly taxpayer cost. That would be better for the industry than the system's collapse following a total Republican give-away to them — or so a savvy "centrist" might argue.

Or maybe the Republican candidate will be able to make that case, and shut the Dems out in the cold, in which case the industry's money would be used against the Democratic front-runner, not necessarily the candidate promising single-payer. How would you use those millions, if you were the strategist for the health insurance industry?

All of this angling and strategizing doesn't get the job accomplished, which is to pass single-payer. This might be a situation where the Democratic party should simply come out for single-payer. It's a policy so completely in line with our values, that it will be counter-productive to continue to sound so similar to Republicans, and so accommodating to an industry that has betrayed its public trust as a corporate member of the community.

Then again, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are all politicians who are playing to win. That makes it up to us. To paraphrase William Lloyd Garrison, it's up to them to see which way the wind is blowing, and it's up to us to raise the wind.

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