Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Ted Kennedy's Health Care Legacy

Senator Edward Kennedy died last night at 77 of a glioblastoma multiforme – a brain cancer for which medicine has no cure. Kennedy leaves behind a rich health care legacy - Medicare, Medicaid, cae for the disabled, COBRA, childen's health care coverage, care for HIIV/AIDs. He also led a 43 year old losing battle to enact a single-payer system – or its equivalent, Medicare-for-all.

His belief was that government could fix whatever was wrong with the health system by offering comprehensive benefits for all. Whatever such a federal program would cost, it was worth it. Ironically, this dream may die this year because of the projected health care cost, now estimated at $1 trillion to $1.6 trillion through 2019, depending on who you believe, Congress or the Office of Management and Budget. The national debt this year will be $1.8 trillion. It has quadrupled in one year under Obama and is expected to grow to $8 trillion by 2019.

At his point, the day after Ted Kennedy’ death, Obama’s popularity in dropping like a rock in the polls, mostly because middle America is scared to death about personal and national debt. Loose talk of “death squads,” more accurately “death counseling” doesn’t help lighten the mood. Increasingly Americans believe Afghanistan will cost too many lives, without purpose, and health care will cost too many dollars, withot improvement in quality. They fear they will not be able to keep what they have and will not have prompt access to life saving or function-restoring technologies when they need them.

Furthermore, Americans skeptical of Obama delegating health reform to Congress, which now has a disapproval rating of 60%. Congress, through the work of 3 committees in the House and 2 in the Senate, are working their way towards some sort of reconciliation.

As Richard Cohen noted in a column in the Washington Post this day of national mourning for Senator Kennedy, “Congress is a parliamentary Okefenokee swamp in which reform invariably bogs down, rots, and emits toxic gases.” Given this swamp, the public is finding President Obama’s explanation of his health reform vision hard to grasp, to wit: “Choice, competition, reducing costs – those are the things I want to accomplish in health reform.”

Perhaps with Senator Kennedy’s help and his legendary skill at reaching constructive compromise, President Obama could have accomplished his magic three goals– more choice, more competition, and less cost. But the three goals will require innovation-squelching regulation and more consumer freedom and personal responsibility with less dependency on government. And those goals were not Senator Kennedy’s and are not President Obama’s kettle of fish.

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