Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will These Reforms Set Back Democrats?

Finally, the health reforms bill passed by the Senate and now the House has been signed into law. Paul Krugman calls it transformational and a triumph over fear-mongering even though it is far from ideal and a parallel legislation to fix some flaws is going through contentious reconciliation. This legislation is also expected to clear. With all the Democratic missteps along the way, this is a historic moment.

Reformers had wanted President Obama to do much more and earlier in time, but his final push was key in getting enough Democratic Congressmen to sign on. Among the side shows the Catholic nuns commendably came forward to support the health reforms bill even as the Conference of US Bishops opposed it on tangential abortion issues. More worrisome are possible accommodations made to get the support of the AMA and the pharmaceutical industry. That's because this bill does little to fulfill the other vital imperative of lowering costs, that will require follow on action affecting the interests of these providers.

The most credit goes to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose quiet resolve and deft dealing with Democratic colleagues has been highlighted by the WSJ.

What about the dire Republican warnings of Democrats paying the price in the 2010 mid-term elections? Obama and other Democratic leaders have publicly accepted this assessment. It's a wise move showing their pro-reform lawmakers in shaky seats as sacrificing their political future for doing the right thing. This paradoxically may help these very Democrats come November.

Anne Kornblut in an MSNBC discussion also rightly opined that the health care issue may well recede from center stage come November, with some other issues driving voter decisions. In any case the Democrats would have lost a lot more if they failed to accomplish health reforms.

In a rational world the reformers should face no downside. The vast majority of Americans either benefit or (for those insured through employers) lose nothing while having the security net of affordable coverage even if their circumstances change. The people who pay more through higher taxes are a small minority of tax earners and some businesses on whom the mandates are accompanied by some offsetting (may be even over-compensating) concessions.

With the increased number of Americans covered the providers all gain up to this point. It is definitely a mixed bag for private insurers whose practices on pre-existing conditions, lifetime caps, rate hikes and recissions will be banned. But even they may benefit in the net, and the stock prices of Aetna and other insurers have risen after passage of this bill.

Still, the voters haven't always been rational in the past - they did elect GWB to a second term in 2004. There's also the uncertainty injected by 13 Republic state attorney generals challenging the law that will take over a year to wend its way and be decided by a Republican leaning Supreme Court. So I'll allow Republicans their hopes and the Democrats their nervousness, though I wouldn't bet with the many pundits on Democratic reversals as a result of these health reforms.

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