HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Clinton's Health Care Plan

A blast to the past, what happened to that plan - well - I am sure we have had our own thoughts on this topic as well as read many commentaries.  Here is a recent commentary from Matthew Holt writing on Ezra Klein's blog.  He has many terrific links in the piece and provides some interesting insights.  Here is a brief section,

If you want to go back and spend a few minutes wallowing in the era of trial balloons and secret task forces, there's a very interesting time line of the whole process on the NPR website, as well as a briefer information over at the Clinton Health Plan Wikipedia site. It seems like there was a moment when it could have succeeded, and indeed there may well have been. What has been missing from the whole discussion over multiple blogs over the last couple of months has been the understanding that there's a real world outside Washington and that sometimes (but not too often) what's going on there has an impact inside the beltway.

The debate over health care had been building for quite a while by the time of the 1992 election even though it wasn't a big factor in the Clinton victory. Harris Wofford had won a Senate seat in 1991 in Pennsylvania with some slogan about the right of every American to go to a doctor. And the debate was being picked up amongst the SCLM elite, with the NY times having several articles about it. In fact my only ever mention on the front (or any other page) of the NY Times (as the third banana author of a piece on Japanese health care) came in very late 1992. That was one of many tiny indications that the discussion about what was wrong with American health care which had been brewing in academia for some time, was starting to come to the notice of the politicos.

So why was that debate becoming politically important? The answer was recession and middle-class insecurity. The recession of 1991-2 was brief but deep and somewhat local (centered around Los Angeles -- remember "Falling Down"?)....and it was the first time that a significant number of white collar workers were asked to pay towards their health benefits. It was also the second time that heath care costs rapidly went up much faster than economic growth (the first time was in the Reagan recession of the early 1980s) which woke up employers, and it was the first time that Americans were being put into managed care plans by their employers. But by far the most important factor was the fear that no job meant no health insurance.  And even though the recession in fact was over by the end of the election season, the carry-over effect of the "no job = no health care" fear went on into 1993.

Clinton was not elected to change the health care system -- the slogan was "It's the economy, stupid!". But rational wonk that he was, when he started to look at the economy and the rate of growth of the health care sector, he realized that he had found the biggest problem, and he set out to fix it. But he wasn't really a wonk about health care, and neither was Hillary. So after the election they decided that they had to study the problem first and then come up with a solution. As a more recent opportunist politician would say, Beeg mistake!


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