No public option, no expansion of Medicare


Hearing that Lieberman had scotched the expansion of Medicare–a policy he’d explicitly endorsed three months ago–had me pretty irritated yesterday. Now I’m seeing comments around the internet suggesting progressives ditch health care reform entirely until it can be done “right.”

I think that’s a terrible idea, and this quote from last November explains why pretty clearly:

Truman sought single payer. His failure led to Kennedy and Johnson, who confined their ambitions to poor families and the elderly. Then came Nixon, whose reform plan was entirely based around private insurers and government regulation. He was followed by Carter, who favored an incremental, and private, approach, and Clinton, who again sought to reform the system by putting private insurers into a market that would be structured and regulated by the government. His failure birthed Obama’s much less ambitious proposal, which attempts to reform not the health-care system, but the small group and nongroup portions of the health-care system by putting a small minority of private insurance plans into a market that’s structured and regulated by the government, and closed off to most Americans.

Failure does not breed success. Obama’s defeat will not mean that more ambitious reforms have “a better chance of trying again.” It will mean that less ambitious reformers have a better chance of trying next time.

Conversely, success does breed success. Medicare and Medicaid began as fairly limited programs. Medicaid was pretty much limited to extremely poor children and their caregivers. Medicare didn’t cover prescription drugs, or individuals with disabilities, or home health services.

But once the programs were passed into law, they were slowly and continually improved. They became more expansive, with Medicaid growing to cover not only poor families but also poor adults, and the federal government giving states the option, and matching dollars, to include more people under the program’s umbrella. Medicare was charged with covering people with long-term disabilities, and it was eventually strengthened with a drug benefit, more preventive coverage, the option of supplementary plans and much more.

It is not hard to imagine health-care reform following a similar path.

That’s a little long, but I think it’s important. Tens of thousands of Americans die preventable deaths every year because they don’t have health insurance. The new, reformed system will save lives, and it will give us something to build on in the future.

Even though I really, really wanted to sign on with a public plan, dammit.