Obama’s Timing of Health Care Reform
There’s been a lot of talk on the op-ed pages about Barack Obama having squandered his political capital on health care reform during his first year in office. He is being roundly criticized for not having focused on jobs and the economy first.
Our public memory is short. The pain of this recession has helped us loose sight of the fact that unbridled health care cost inflation will ultimately cripple this country’s financial future. Have we forgotten those graphs demonstrating how every year the national bill for health care gobbles up an ever increasing percentage of GDP so that in twenty or thirty years we won’t have enough left for much of anything else?
The inflation in health care costs is largely caused by the way we treat medicine in this country as a for-profit industry with an incentive structure that encourages profit-taking over prevention and efficiency. Health care cost inflation remains the single biggest long-term structural problem facing our economy, and a much more complex problem to fix than entitlement reform. Something had to be done. The Republicans offered no alternative solution that would have made a real difference. They prefer nibbling around the edges with things like tort reform (which is important, but doesn’t strike anywhere close to the heart of the problem).
So I believe Obama was right to prioritize health care reform. The issue is intensely polarizing and would probably have been impossible to address once his honeymoon was over. Just look at what’s happening right now with the GOP’s continuing efforts to scrap the whole thing or at least to rescind the individual mandate (which amounts to much the same).
The president’s health care reform bill is far from perfect. Political realities forced many compromises, such as the dropping of the public option, which have weakened it. But he had the courage to take the first step and I believe we’ll thank him for it some day, though it may ultimately cost him his job.