Painting a New Vision

President Bush is expected to deliver a major health care speech on Monday to an audience outside Washington, D.C. If it is in the spirit of his State of the Union address, he will use the time to paint a vision of the tremendous opportunities for health care innovation in the 21st century and why fundamental changes in the current financing and regulatory systems are imperative to achieve that vision. The newly-released Economic Report of the President, reviewed below, does just that.

The administration has been developing a basketful of health policy proposals, mostly good but a few not so good, as we mentioned last week. Hopefully the president also will explain how some his policies – like expanding Medicaid to provide a drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries – will contribute to a deregulated, market-based, consumer-centered health care system.

If the president can paint a vision of a vibrant health sector that continues to generate stunning advances in medical care while extending that care to all, he can go a long way to focusing the debate on fresh new ideas.

Then on Tuesday (Feb. 12), 12 national organizations, ranging from the American Medical Association and the U.S. Chamber to the AFL-CIO and FamiliesUSA, will release new data showing “a dramatic increase in the number of uninsured Americans as a result of the economic downturn.”

They will unveil a new advertising campaign, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, called “Covering the Uninsured.” These heavy hitters will make a big splash, but it’s hard to see how the sensible, market-based policy prescriptions of half of the members of the group can fit with those of other members who are on record as advocating a strong, centralized government-run system.

The health care debate is never boring because the terrain shifts constantly. This week, the economic stimulus package died, taking away for now a vehicle to begin to get sensible tax credits for the uninsured into law. But next week’s events show that the two sides are as engaged as ever and that health care will continue to dominate the debate in 2002.

Grace-Marie Turner

Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a not-for-profit research organization focusing on ideas to promote free-market health reform. She can be reached at P.O. Box 19080, Alexandria, VA, 22320.

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