Candidates put health care on 2008 agenda

Kai Ryssdal May 29, 2007

Candidates put health care on 2008 agenda

Kai Ryssdal May 29, 2007


KAI RYSSDAL: If you had any doubts at all that health care wasn’t going to be an ’08 election issue, get rid of ’em right now.

Barack Obama laid out his health care proposal today in Iowa. Every citizen would get some kind of coverage. Most, he promised, would save up to $2,500 a year.

Senator Clinton talked about her health care plan last week. Similar in many ways to Obama’s. John Edwards gave us his prescription earlier this year. All of them driven by this fact of early 21st-century American life:

UWE REINHARDT: The bottom third of the income distribution is being systematically priced out of health care.

Uwe Reinhardt’s a professor of economics at Princeton University. We called him up to talk about the various proposals floating around out there.

Professor, welcome to the program.

UWE REINHARDT: My pleasure.

RYSSDAL: So here we have, as of today, sort of three of the leading Democratic candidates with plans out: Senator Edwards, Senator Clinton and now Senator Obama. Is there anything in each of these plans that stands out at you that makes you say, “Oh now there’s an innovation, there’s something that might really, finally break this open?”

REINHARDT: Well on the Edwards plan, what stands out is that he actually put money on the table. As I recall, it was something . . . he’s willing to spend $120 billion a year — which is almost as much as we spend in Iraq. And the other two candidates don’t have any dollar figure associated with. So for the Edwards proposal, what’s novel is that it’s truly comprehensive and he’s willing to commit money to it. So that’s the most complete plan. The other two plans are ideas not sketched out in great detail.

RYSSDAL: So where does that get us in the fall of 2008, the day after the election, when one of these people — either Democratic or Republican — wins and has to enact this plan?

REINHARDT: They have to sketch out these plans a lot more than they have so far to . . . for anyone to assess where they might go. Mrs. Clinton’s proposal, as I read it last week, basically didn’t say much at all about the uninsured, other than hinting that if health care were cheaper, more people could be insured. But most of her proposals were things to get better value for the dollar and perhaps to reduce the rapid increase in health spending by using information technology — by cutting out waste, shooting for higher quality. These are not novel ideas, and the real question is, can she get them done any faster than any president has before?

RYSSDAL: Are the problems and the potential fixes with the health care system in this country so widely agreed upon that when we eventually see something from Republican candidates, as they proceed in their policy-making, that it might resemble what we’re seeing from the Democrats?

REINHARDT: They will have to come forth with something. And what they might — and if they’re smart — what they’ll come forth with is versions of the Massachusetts-Arnold Schwarzenegger plan, which is a little bit of everything. You pay off the insurance industry by letting them be the vehicle through which people get third-party coverage. And so I think, in many ways, the Republicans actually, probably have as good a chance as the Democrats of getting something done. Don’t ever forget it was Bush, the ultra-conservative, who put in an unbelievably liberal Medicare drug benefit for the elderly that really helped the poor. So I don’t think this is really necessarily a Democratic monopoly.

RYSSDAL: Uwe Reinhardt is a professor of political economy at Princeton University. He covers health and health-care issues. Professor, thanks for your time.

REINHARDT: Ah, my pleasure.

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