The Right Role for Government

Nearly 10 years ago, in September of 1992, then-candidate Bill Clinton gave a speech at the New Jersey headquarters of Merck & Co. to outline his vision for a reengineered U.S. health care system that would use the powers of government to achieve universal coverage – putting “the common good above that of the individual,” as now-Senator Hillary Clinton later explained.

This week, President Bush dramatically shifted the debate by painting a new vision for America that celebrates individual choice and freedom, innovation, and free markets in a “private, patient-centered medical system.”

“Government’s role is not to centralize?or control the delivery of medicine,” Mr. Bush said in a speech on Monday at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Instead, he wants “a modern, innovative health care system” that continues to produce the new medicines and medical devices that are among “America’s greatest contributions to mankind.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that with the right reforms, the right philosophy, a philosophy of trust – trust in people – that American will remain on the cutting edge of medicine?[and] attract the best and the brightest to the medical profession.”

What a refreshing change! While we may not agree with all of the details in the administration’s policy proposals, this fresh new vision puts supporters of free-markets on the offense on health care for the first time.

Two days later, Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) chaired a Ways and Means Committee hearing to feature a central initiative in the president’s plan, health credits for the uninsured. (See below.) Then on Thursday, Mr. Thomas led the House of Representatives to pass, for the third time, a bill that includes tax credits for uninsured workers.

But to show that the battles are far from over, this week, a coalition of 12 business and labor groups, ranging from the AFL-CIO and Families USA to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Medical Association, came together to focus on the challenge of extending health coverage to the uninsured. They will spend $10 million on television ads to generate public support.

While we rightly agree that access to health coverage is critically important, several members in this “Covering the Uninsured” coalition, such as Families USA, make it very clear that they want to achieve universal coverage through broad expansion of government-run health care programs.

It would be unfortunate if the business groups in the coalition were to be lured into the trap of inadvertently helping these determined groups to further advance their agenda of vastly expanding government entitlement programs like Medicaid.

The battle is joined. But with a new champion in the White House and a bright new vision, we are making progress.

Grace-Marie Turner

Link to President Bush’s health care speech and fact sheet:

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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