Evidence continues to mount that it will be much more difficult to stop the Democrats from enacting some kind of universal healthcare than it was in 1993/1994. The Washington Post reports that Tom Daschle, who hasn’t even been formally named Secretary of Health and Human Services yet, is already engaging activists on the issue, asking for their input, and hoping build on the success that the Obama campaign had in mobilizing the grassroots during the campaign. This is not somebody who is taking the HHS job to manage its day-to-day bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, yesterday, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the largest trade group of insurance companies, proposed its own universal health care plan, declaring that, “now is the time for health care reform.” This is a stunning development, given that the insurance industry played a major role in the defeat of HillaryCare. In the proposal, insurers agree to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions, if the government imposes a mandate requiring that every American purchase health insurance. Meanwhile, to control costs, the group proposes “a public-private advisory group be created to provide specific policy recommendations to Congress on reducing health care costs” – which is similar to Daschle’s idea of a Federal Health Board. They also endorse an expansion of S-CHIP. Liberals are a bit less enthused by the group’s support for portable coverage that would be available to all states. But it will be difficult for conservatives to make the argument that the Obama administration plans a government takeover of health care if private insurers are on board with some of its major elements.
On the other hand, this does create a different sort of opportunity for conservatives. The individual insurance coverage mandate is typically the least popular element of any universal health care plan. Obama realizes this, which is why he astutely argued against a mandate during the campaign. Insurers want one because they need to be able to bring healthy people into the system to balance out their risk and offset the cost of treating the very ill. So if Obama reverses course, conservatives will be able argue that the big insurance companies are getting government to force Americans to purchase their products.