Critical Condition

Clinton: Wrong on Health-Care Politics

During the health-care debate, Bill Clinton tried to convince nervous Democrats to vote for Obamacare by claiming that voters in 1994 had punished the Democratic Congress for failing to pass a health-care bill, and that this time Democrats would be rewarded if they passed something. Clinton felt that once passed, the bill would increase in popularity. On yesterday’s Meet the Press, Clinton acknowledged that he was wrong, but he deflected blame elsewhere (surprise, surprise). According to Clinton, he miscalculated because “the benefits of the bill are spread out of three or four years” and because “there has been an enormous and highly effective attack on it.”

The bill’s continuing unpopularity may have sunk in with our last Democratic president, but our current one appears to be doubling down. According to today’s Wall Street Journal, the “Obama administration this week plans to revive its pitch for the health-care overhaul,” and the president will be giving a speech on Wednesday to plug the bill.

He can try, of course, but my friend and former Bush administration colleague Scott Gottlieb has a good piece in today’s New York Post explaining why this won’t work. According to Scott, “the price of insurance is rising even faster than before, the number of uninsured Americans is spiraling upward, and the choices people have of doctors and health plans are being sharply constrained as a result.” The new bill is changing the way insurance companies operate, and the “resulting policies are a throwback to the original model of managed care, when HMOs maintained tight networks of eligible doctors and closely managed what kinds of tests and treatments physicians could order.” This “throwback” is likely to be even more unpopular than the current system — recall Helen Hunt’s expletive-laden, cheer-inducing anti-HMO rant in As Good As it Gets.  I’m curious to hear what the president has to say on the subject on Wednesday, but I fail to see how he will reverse the current dynamic, and it seems that former president Clinton is fairly skeptical as well.

Tevi Troy is a presidential historian and former White House aide. His latest book is Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump.

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