Sunday, February 18

Health care reforms: Too much, too confusing


Cumbersome political system can't digest sweeping overhauls

By Marriane Means

Hearst Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Congress officially abandoned President Clinton’s
ambitious health care reforms this week, for all the wrong reasons
- and all the right ones as well.

The first serious presidential effort to strengthen a health
system badly in need of overhaul did not fail, as Republican
National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour gloated, because ”the
American people have rejected” it.

All the polls show the ”people” never really figured out what
was in the plan, nor concluded how they felt about it.

The reforms collapsed because they were simply too confusing and
sweeping for our political system to digest in the span of one
congressional term.

Competing financial interests with a vital stake in health care
- doctors, insurance companies, care providers, hospitals,
politicians, patients and their families – diverged and clashed.
Such a complicated business takes time to sort out in a
democracy.

Our stubborn political inertia can be frustrating, but it also
helps to prevent the sort of hasty ill-considered decision that can
have unforeseen and painful consequences.

President Clinton expected Congress, that quarrelsome, cranky
body, to move rapidly to work his will, even though he didn’t
exactly move at the speed of light himself. Although health reform
had been a 1992 campaign centerpiece and he talked about it a lot,
it took the White House almost a year to actually send specific
legislation to Capitol Hill.

Proposed bills came and went with dizzying speed. Scaled-down
measures replaced sweeping ones. Members changed positions
virtually from day to day. Congress didn’t seem to know what it was
doing. The president himself was inconsistent about what he
wanted.

In hindsight, it is not surprising that the system balked.

Too much to comprehend, too little time. Too much political
hogwash, too little presidential clout. Too much confusion, too
little agreement.

Although President Clinton could not pass a universal plan this
year, he has put the issue firmly on the national agenda. And there
it will stay until the problems it was meant to address – at least
37 million uninsured Americans and spiraling, budget-busting costs
- are resolved, one way or the other.

Marriane Means is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.

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