Marketplace Scratch Pad

An obit for reform, just in case

Scott Jagow Jul 30, 2009

It’s been a common practice in broadcast news to have an “obit shelf.” Reporters prepare obituary segments for famous people who might die soon. That way, when they do die, presto!, a touching look back at their life is on the evening news, even if they died 5 seconds before air. In that vein, I just want to be prepared in case health care reform gets run over by a bus.

You see, the obit’s already been written, for the most part. Read this paragraph:

The end came slowly, after great pain. The body lay on the operating table, bloody and twitching. Outside, shattered parents paced the halls, wiping tears from their reddened eyes. Exhausted surgeons applied jolt after jolt to the patient’s heart. It was no use. Health-care reform is dead.

It goes on, emphasis mine:

The lobbies–and especially the small-business one, which opposed any sort of “employer mandate” to pay for insurance–were on their way to spending over $250m to stifle health-care legislation. Voters had been showered with anti-reform advertising, much of it alarmist and some of it patently false. As the public’s appetite for sweeping reform diminished, Republicans sensed increasingly that there would be no political cost in being intransigent. This, in turn, put fear into moderate Democrats who were unwilling to pass a bill with purely partisan support.

And so by August health-care reform was in critical condition.

This was published… September 24th, 1994 in the Economist. There’s even a chilling warning to future generations who might dare tackle health care reform:

It is true that Mr Clinton was brave to have taken up such a risky challenge. It is also true that the main stumbling blocks to reform in the future will be an increasingly partisan Congress (in the short term) and a public which wants universal coverage, better care and control of medical costs but is unwilling to sacrifice anything to get there (in the long term). But the great health-care debate of 1993-94 has added a new obstacle: a powerful message to all future politicians that taking up this issue is, in the end, more trouble than it is worth.

They really ought to post this column all over Washington under the headline, Those Who Forget History

In the meantime, tonight on Marketplace, an update on exactly where the latest health care debate stands in Congress.

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