Thursday, January 21, 2010

What now for Health Reform?

Now that the special election in Massachusetts is over President Obama has his work cut out for him trying to achieve passage of health reform legislation. "The mega-bills are dead. If we didn't see what happened Tuesday night, we have blinkers on," Democrat Michael Arcuri of New York told the AP following a House Democratic Caucus meeting. And it's very unlikely the House will pass the Senate version unchanged. "I don't see the votes for it at this time," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

But wait a minute... Was the election in Massachusetts really a referendum on health reform. As Rasmussen Reports data shows in polling data from the election, 56% of Massachusetts voters named health care as the most important issue. That suggests it was a big issue, but Democrat Martha Coakley actually won among those voters by a 53% to 46% margin. So this may not actually be a repudiation of the goals of health reform, but more of the costs associated with it and the process used to try to push it through. As Kevin Pho, M.D. said on his blog:
A piece of advice to my progressive friends. The best way to win over doctors is to take medical malpractice seriously. More than a few will gladly accept a single-payer system if explicitly paired with comprehensive liability reform. Even with the most conservative, non-partisan, CBO estimates, fixing the malpractice system will save $54 billion over 10 years, which is not insignificant.
The healthcare system in the United States badly needs reform, but this bill is certainly not the best we can do. And it's still possible to move ahead on health reform taking an incremental approach. There will need to be some efforts to compromise and a series of pared down packages that each can be debated on their own merits. Senator Brown voted for the health reform in Massachusetts and there are sure to be smaller packages that can get through the process. And for those on the far right cheering the election of Brown, I suspect that there will be some disappointment ahead as it becomes clear that he is much more moderate an they might like. But if the progressive wing in liberal America is not paying close attention to what has happened in recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey and now Massachusetts then 2010 will be a very bad year for their agenda.

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