The Political Downside of Health Care Reform

First of all, I consider providing all Americans with health care coverage to be a moral imperative.  It is the right thing to do.  Having said that, some people say it will be a disaster for the Democrats if health care reform does not pass.  Unfortunately, looking beyond the immediate timeframe, passing health care reform may have a looming downside for Democrats.  Here is the analysis.

For years, people have complained (and rightfully so) about rising premiums, long waits at hospital emergency rooms, long waits in doctor’s offices, etc. etc. etc.  Now once health care reform passes later this year, we go into 2010 and 2011.  The average voter has a job and health care insurance.  After health care reform, he will still experience rising premiums, long waits at hospital emergency rooms, long waits in doctor’s offices, etc. etc. etc.  But now, the fact that nothing changed immediately for the “average voter” opens the door to the conclusion, “Gee, health care reform is meaningless.  Nothing has changed.  This is health care reform!”

The point is the “ills of system” can and will be seen as a “failure” of health care reform as opposed to the contunuing problems which over time (several years) the reform is intended to control.  It is  a small step to go further and say, “gee, my tax dollars are being spent on supposed health care reform and nothing has changed for me; in fact it continues to get worst.”  Now the “average voter” is close to concluding that health care reform was a sham.  Who does he or she blame?  Obama and the Democrats.

I can hear it now.  “Have things gotten better for you under health care reform?  Has your coverage improved?  Have your premiums gone down?”  Now the only retort will be but wait things would have gotten much worse without the reforms.  That is the same argument being used to justify the stimulus spending.  We would have lost even more jobs if we hadn’t spent that money is the refrain. 

This I fear is the political downside of health care reform passing.  Unless the “average working insured” American sees an immediate improvement in his or her health coverage “universe” (which no one even argues will occur) that voter will slowly conclude that reform was a failure.  If, as is unfortunately likely, premiums continue to rise and coverage continues to shrink, there will be a voter backlast to health care reform passing.

When health care reform passes and it will in some form, there will be jubilant celebrations claiming victory and triumph.  Remember the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

The only sustainable justification for health care reform is to state that it is morally repugnant for any poor man, woman or child to be denied health care access and treatment because they can’t afford it.  It’s like food stamps; a civilized nation must feed the hungry among them.  Unfortunately, this is not how health care reform is being justified.  Instead “down the road”, “hard to calculate” “systemic” benefits are being debated.  That won’t cut it next year when the average voter sees no benefit from health care reform. 

The spin masters can roll out example after example of unisureds who are now proudly holding their insurance card and are genuinely relieved to have it.  Unfortunately, that won’t mean anything to the person who “trusted” health care reform advocates and sees no improvement in their personal situation. 

It will take years to “reform” the health care system once some reforms are passed.  That may not sit too well with the millions of insured Americans who are unlikely to see anything other than “more of the same” problems after reform.

I hope the above analysis does not come true but I fear that it will. 

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