Monday, March 22, 2010

A little self-flagellation

Here's a riddle for you: What do you get when you cross 12 years of majority status with a party that has its collective head in the sand?

Answer: Obamacare.

As much as we conservatives and Republicans want to wail and gnash our teeth over the heavy-handed, manipulative tactics of the Democrats in getting this behemoth of a bill passed, we really have only ourselves to blame. Healthcare reform is not a new issue. In 1992, when President Clinton took office, consumers were complaining about runaway costs, capricious insurance denials, no real choices, and haphazard delivery. Hillary Clinton became the first First Lady to take an active policy role in trying to shape an overhaul of the healthcare system to address these issues and create a system that insured everyone. We heard exactly the same arguments for and against her ideas as we've heard over Obamacare. Republicans - and the general public - recoiled. Of course we need healthcare reform, we said, but it should be targeted to the real needs in the system - we didn't need some sweeping overhaul that would destroy the best medical system in the entire world. We needed lawsuit reform, portability, more consumer choice and direct access so people could see how much their healthcare actually costs. Eventually Hillary Clinton's plans were tossed out as too far-reaching, too socialistic. Americans didn't want socialized medicine, plain and simple. They elected Republicans to a majority in 1994 to rein in the left and bring balance back to federal government.

Republicans held Congressional majorities for 12 years. For 8 of those years, we held control of the executive and the legislative branch. There was nothing we couldn't have done. We had a golden, perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to enact the kind of reforms that would have transformed the medical industry in America and provided a shining example for the rest of the world for how to provide effective, cost-efficient healthcare that rewarded innovation and success and left no patient behind.

Instead, we did...nothing.

No tort reform. No delivery streamlining. No portability. No reforms of insurance pools or patient coverage. Oh, we managed to create a bill to cover prescription medications for some folks, but we even screwed that up. All we really did was expand bureaucracy and increase costs. For the most part, Republicans put healthcare reform on the back burner, telling ourselves that the public cared more about the war on terror than the state of our medical system.

The funny thing is, people did continue to care. The healthcare system is something that affects all of us every day - taking care of children or aging parents; dealing with insurance companies, providers, pharmacies, government agencies; paying the co-pays, the deductibles, the out-of-network, out-of-pockets. The maze is confusing at best, rife with traps that cost you dearly or dead ends that don't heal your ills. The costs are ridiculous - insurance premium increases of 15% or more annually are not unusual even when inflation stays near zero.

So, the Democrats come along, led by this charismatic "Yes We Can!" leader who promised to bring Utopia into being with his presidency. With commanding majorities in both houses, he had a golden, perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to enact the kind of reforms that will transform the medical industry in America. The difference? President Obama did it. We may not like his vision or his methods, but he did it. The Democrats now own the healthcare issue. And beyond our goldfish bowls of cynicism and beltway politics, here is a sampling of real statements from average people about the bill:
"I'm glad that now self-employed people can buy into insurance pools like employees do."
"Now my husband doesn't have to stay with his job to keep our health insurance. We can take our policy with us."
"My neighbor can't be denied coverage for her heart condition."
"I know there are things in the bill I won't like, but we can fix those. At least this is a start."

Hear that? That's the sound of American common sense and compassion talking. Those are Republican ideas. But we will never be able to claim them now, because we failed to provide clear leadership when we had the chance. The American people wanted action. They wanted some direction. We didn't provide any, so they took the only direction that was laid out, knowing it would have to be fixed later.

We have a chance to fix it in November. Will we be fit to lead?

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