Jonathan Movroydis: The Plan That Would Have Saved Healthcare
[Jonathan recently graduated from the University of California, Irvine. His research and writing interests include political ideology, religion, and their respective impact on domestic and world politics.]
The latest AARP Bulletin features the debate between RN and the late Senator Edward Kennedy on their respective proposals for healthcare reform in the early Seventies.
According to the bulletin’s editor Jim Toedtman, RN introduced a bold national plan that — if passed — would have expanded private coverage to almost all Americans:
Nixon’s plan required employers to provide health care insurance for their employees. It provided federal subsidies for the poor and created rural health clinics and a network of state committees to set industry standards, guarantee basic coverage and coordinate insurance for the self-employed. In the process, it would have extended health care coverage to almost all Americans.
Toedtman goes on to say that Senator Kennedy’s opposition to the plan was a missed chance, a stance which he later came to regret.
In short, if Senator Kennedy hadn’t been afflicted by the proverbial ideological blinders, the millions uninsured would have benefited from the “sweeping plan” before the partisan divide widened and the political waters became more toxic:
That was then. On reflection, Kennedy came to view the Nixon proposal as a missed opportunity. “We should have jumped on that,” he told the Boston Globe earlier this year. In the years since Democrats rejected Nixon’s “sweeping new program,” battle lines have hardened and the partisan breach has widened. And costs have soared. When Nixon proposed his plan, health care spending accounted for less than $100 billion, 7 percent of the $1.4 trillion U.S. economy. Today, it accounts for $2.3 trillion, approximately 17 percent of the economy. And the number of uninsured has nearly doubled—to 46.7 million last year.
Republicans have championed the free market as the key to reform. They stymied the last major overhaul effort 16 years ago. With the help of the drug industry and AARP, they expanded Medicare with a prescription drug plan. They created tax-free health savings accounts (and named them after Republican chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee). As recently as April, House Republicans voted overwhelmingly to convert Medicare into a system of vouchers that future retirees could use to purchase private insurance. And they seem to have set their sights on scuttling President Obama’s health care initiative.
Democrats, just as stridently, have pursued successive iterations of Kennedy’s original, federally funded and regulated plan. The Clinton administration’s public and private plan, hatched in private and in suffocating detail, collapsed.
Today, with control of Congress and the White House, Democrats are advancing Obama’s plan, a combination of private, employer-provided and individual-based coverage and care. It’s striking how closely that resembles the plan outlined by Nixon four decades ago.
There’s a lesson here, and an important one that Kennedy learned four decades too late: Don’t allow partisanship and ideology to blind you to opportunity. But who in the nation’s all but dysfunctional capital has learned Kennedy’s lesson? Who has the common sense and the willingness to listen? Who will set aside the partisanship that has paralyzed the health care debate? Who will step forward and seize the opportunity before them?
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