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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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Health Care: the Democrats' Lost Opportunity


A remarkable thing just happened in the people's party. Democrats have chosen a candidate, in the year 2008, who does not have a plan for universal health coverage. Barack Obama caresses the words "universal coverage" almost hourly, but his proposal offers nothing of the kind — unlike the plans of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and other Democratic hopefuls.

Most striking, the man who showed such timidity on health care became the hero of ardent progressives. So forgiving was their love of Mr. Big that they virtually abandoned what should have been the Democrats' most potent promise: medical coverage for all.

This is political opportunity lost. In a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, 49 percent of registered voters list the economy as their No. 1 issue, with the Iraq war second at 19 percent. Health care comes in a close third at 14 percent.

Make no mistake: A universal health-care system is an economic as well as social imperative — the idea that in a rich country, no one should go without medical care. The lack of one hurts Americans' ability to compete with foreigners whose governments have controlled national health-care costs and achieved better average medical outcomes through their national systems of universal coverage.

So how are voters to compare the health-care proposals of Obama and presumptive Republican candidate John McCain?

McCain proposes tax credits for families to buy their own coverage. This is not the freshest of ideas, though he does call for federal aid to help states cover sick people rejected by private insurers. McCain opposes a mandate requiring everyone to get health insurance.

And so does Obama. He would insist that all children have health coverage, but not adults. As he said during the recent campaign, "Sen. Clinton believes the only way to achieve universal health care is to force everybody to purchase it."

Thing is, a system based on private coverage that doesn't force everyone to participate is, by definition, not universal.

What happens is that the young and healthy don't bother buying in. (They figure that they can always glom onto a taxpayer supported program, should they face a medical crisis.)

The inevitable result is that the government programs fill with expensive patients, while the hearty souls — who in any coherent system subsidize their sick neighbors — get to sit on the sidelines. This is a disaster in the making.

The logic of Obama's argument isn't great, either. His line about Hillary forcing people to buy insurance was followed by this: "And my belief is, the reason that people don't have it is not because they don't want it but because they can't afford it." Well, if his plan makes health insurance affordable, why can't everyone afford it?

For the record, McCain also vows to make coverage affordable for all. And although his more free-market approach to health care can't possibly deliver on this (without spending a lot more than he says he will), the McCain vision stands on a sturdier reality.

The best idea is to enroll all Americans in Medicare. This would be much simpler and administratively cheaper than either the McCain or Obama (or Clinton) plan. As it now does for the elderly, Medicare would pick up most of the hospital and physician bills for everybody. An expanded Medicare would free businesses from the burden of providing medical care to employees and their kin.

Obama's health-care plan looks like a back-of-the-napkin scribbling by someone who didn't care all that much but needed something. How curious that out of the smoke and drama of the Democratic race, there emerged a "candidate of change" whose health-care proposal is not universal, much less bold.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




3 Comments | Post Comment
Obama does not have to push for Universal forced coverage, because he knows the next congress will be overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats who WILL make health care universal without any personal choice.
Obama is playing a calculated game. Far from being honest, he is a master politician, backed up by a truly skilled team of message manipulators who know what Obama has to Say to make himself and his agenda look LESS radical than it is.
Making a "publicly" conservative Health Care choice for the nation, risks him the least, and brings him the most. So far it has effectively muted the opposition from extremely powerful interest groups to anything except for "blank check" universal health insurance would surely doom any such bill.
He's counting on the Legislature totally controlled by Democrats to force Health care to be universal.
Faced with a choice of Vetoing universal health care because of the "force provisions" or signing it, he WILL sign it.
IRONICALLY, the same situation will play out even if McCain is president.
McCain will NOT have any of the power advantages as President that Commandante Bush has.
McCain will end up being a "weak" executive pitted against a "strong, empowered" Democratic solid, near super majority controlled by Liberals in Congress.
He will get the same choice as Obama, and will ultimately sign it in order NOT to avoid looking beaten, discounted in the process.
Despite what Obamaniacs say, there is LITTLE/NO risk for ONCE in voting for a RepubliTHUG, because Dems. are going to have total control of the House and Senate.
McCain will NOT be able to appoint extremist, anti-roe v wade judges. The Dems. in the Senate have learned their lesson about the high high cost of "respecting" the Executive branch in selecting SC Judges.
McCain will NOT be able to stay in Iraq. Dems. WILL HAVE the #s to force their will on the Exec. after Nov. 2008.
McCain will NOT be able to pursue insane economic policies - Dems. will NOT pass his agenda without compromise to fit Dem. Goals.
McCain will NOT be able to continue Commandante Bush's effort to turn our Gov't. into a kleptocracy via bogus "privatization" which gives Govt. money to profiteers to perform vital Govt. functions in place of the Govt. Dems WILL HAVE the oversight in place, and will call him out every time he tries to do that.
It is extremely ironic, that the high likelihood of an overwhelming Dem. victory in both houses, makes it possible for millions of former HRC voters to vote for RepubliTHUG, McCain in order to get the outcome most Americans really want - a "DIVIDED GOVERNMENT" with a weak Exec. and strong Legislature with a CLEAN conscious.
This country has always prospered under Federal Govts. where each party controlled a branch of Government.
This country historically pays a huge price for giving one party or the other total control of the Federal Govt.
Americans may not know that "individually" but the nation's "collective consciousness" is aware.
As the campaign starts to progress the knowledge of the "collective consciousness" of the nation will seep into the consciousness of individual voters. Americans everywhere will start to see the election as a choice between a Federal Government totally controlled by the Hard Left with Obama as president , or a Divided Government with Democrats sufficiently empowered to balance and force sensible/fair compromise on the variety of issues Americans will face after the election.
If that does fully come to pass, McCain will win. NOT because he is the best, but because EXTREMISM SUCKS, Balance is key to progress.
The ONLY mitigating factor that could stop this is for Obama to select HRC as VP.
Her selection is all the millions who support her need to accept Obama is his own man and NOT a puppet of the Hard Left, and thus bring him most of those millions of former HRC supporters set to vote McCain or NOT vote at all over to Obama.
Comment: #1
Posted by: jonathan seer
Thu Jun 5, 2008 9:51 AM
Froma Harrop does not seem to realize that Medicare is not a panacea for health care coverage. Take it from me, a 75+-year-old male with no pension, that if I did not budget to buy a Medicare supplement at over $90 a month, I would be in serious trouble trying to buy prescription drugs. Plus, the Medicare supplement threatens to nickle-and-dime us with increasing co-payments.

The use of the word “Universal” for a sensible health care programs to protect all citizen of the United States is purely a euphemism.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Chartles J. Read
Mon Jun 9, 2008 10:52 AM
Dear Ms Harrop:
Universal health care does not work! I am a physician and have been for 30 years. What worked the best was when patients had to pay up front for the service and then got reimbursed by the insurance company. When health care became cheap to the patients it became overused. At least 50% of daily care is not needed by patients. If they had to pay the entire bill upfront they would not be seen. This became evident almost immediately when managed care came into play.
My in-laws are Canadian and their system is not working. I was watching a Canadian tv program the other evening and the moderator said why is the U.S. trying to copy our system when our is too expensive and does not work. England and France also are considering changing their systems.
None of the politicians have addressed tort reform. This is one of the biggest reasons for increases in health care. It is a dirty little secret. Doctors do not want to tell you that we order a lot of extra tests to cover your a#* but we do. I would think the candidates would at least have a panel of doctors to help guide them on this issue. I am told there is little input from the medical profession.
i would like to practice for many years but am being driven out by high overhead, high malpractice, and shrinking payments from the insurance companies, many of which have CEOs whose salries are in the millions.

Thank you for your time, Dr. Willard Ruth

Comment: #3
Posted by: dr willard ruth
Tue Jun 10, 2008 5:27 PM
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