President Clinton's "Age of Possibility" address last week was an effective piece of political theater. The State of the Union message also was a stark reminder of how healthcare reform has shifted from a grandiose government-propelled scheme to a more sensible, market-driven undertaking.
Two years ago, Clinton used his annual presidential address to revive a flagging push for comprehensive health reform, threatening to veto any bill that didn't guarantee every American "private health insurance that can never be taken away." By last year, Clinton was urging a more modest, step-by-step effort to find common ground with congressional Republicans.
Last week's speech was a ringing campaign-style challenge to a nation looking toward a new millennium. But Clinton didn't overlook healthcare. Instead, he appeared to recognize both political reality and the furious activity under way to change the status quo.
He was on target in focusing on the need to help families keep insurance when they change jobs or when someone gets sick, and on the desire to prevent insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
We have in the past urged incremental changes focusing on insurance reform and expansion of coverage for the uninsured. In particular, we have favored the bipartisan insurance reform legislation sponsored by Sens. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Their bill passed the Senate labor committee unanimously, but its fate in the House does not appear as favorable.
With so much attention focused on the budget stalemate and efforts to restrain Medicare and Medicaid spending increases, the need for legislation to increase insurance equity and diminish the problem of the uninsured is easily overlooked. Executives visiting Capitol Hill this week during the American Hospital Association's annual policy meeting should urge legislators to move both issues to the top of the agenda.