Healthcare is being held hostage by partisan politics and the Washington mentality of burying today's problems so deep that they become the crises of tomorrow.
While most political pundits are monitoring the fate of the Kassebaum-Kennedy insurance reform bill as it simmers awaiting conference committee modifications, a healthcare story of greater significance is reaching the boiling point.
That's why the call to arms by Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.) is worth heeding. "The time has come for both parties to work together to save Medicare," said the chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee.
The Congressional Budget Office earlier this month said the Medicare Hospital Insurance Fund, which is expected to spend $127.1 billion in fiscal 1996, is facing depletion within five years. Given the importance of this fund to providers, Medicare beneficiaries and the overall economy, it should be a top priority.
Guess again. The budget stalemate and the November elections have relegated the issue to the bottom of the pile. Much of the blame for the inactivity has to fall on President Clinton, who for purely political reasons berated House Republican leaders in their attempt to deal with the looming Medicare crisis. But fingers also should be pointed at those Republicans who are as concerned with medical savings accounts and malpractice limits as they are with getting the Medicare house in order.
Dealing with Medicare and Medicaid spending in separate bills from the federal budget, as some congressional leaders have suggested, offers a small but promising opportunity. In these trying times of questionable leadership and nasty politics, it's at least worth a try.