“Why Health Care Reform Could Fail Again”

Former Clinton administration adviser Stanley Greenberg has an illuminating article in The New Republic.  Greenberg compared the polls he did during the Clinton health care debate to his recent polling on President Obama’s proposed reforms:

Perhaps I should know better than to have sensed any profound changes in the country. And, when I got the results for the new survey, I looked at each question warily, remembering how it all went badly wrong. As I reached the last of the questions, I exclaimed: “Oh no. It can’t be. Nothing’s changed.”…

The country divides evenly on whether the greater risk is an unchanged status quo or government reforms that “create new problems.” And, finally, Obama might want to pay attention to how closely his situation echoes Clinton’s. Then and now, more people favor the president’s health care plan than oppose it, but the supporters make up less than a majority.

If anything, I found on most of these questions that the desire for change and support for reform was slightly stronger 16 years ago, underscoring the importance of learning some lessons from that history…

Our inability to talk credibly about how we would reduce health care spending or costs for individuals and the country built a contradiction into all our efforts–the more we talked about the comprehensiveness of our plans, the more voters worried this would yield higher premiums or higher taxes. Very quickly, voters came to conclude that their families would face higher costs.

And those dynamics are still in play. In my recent polling, I found that voters are skeptical about claims that reform will reduce costs and personal health outlays. Claims about simplicity, information-technology modernization, and best practices don’t seem to be enough to persuade them otherwise…

It may surprise you that Obama has already lost seniors, according to our current survey–only one-third approve of his plan. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see there isn’t much in it for them. There is already talk of carving out major savings from Medicare and, unlike during Clinton’s battle, no offer of a new drug benefit. Clearly, they need to see health care gains for themselves too…

With few illusions about the old system, union households are strong supporters of Obama’s proposal. Yet the members will ultimately judge whether the plan is good for their families–and I’m certain that all the talk about taxing insurance contributions has not gone unnoticed…

[W]hile voters have great confidence in Obama and his administration, they are worried about the deficits and spending and the government bailouts of the irresponsible. So, while voters want to see a rebalancing away from greed and toward the public good, almost half the citizenry is worried the government may get it wrong.Ross Perot is a distant memory, but his more libertarian, blue-collar male voters are very much alive. They are pretty certain government will mess this up–and only about 30 percent support Obama’s health care plan right now. With Republicans reciting their mantra about no “government takeover” of health care, the plan’s opponents have found a common text…

Most are not at all satisfied with a system that has forced them to trade higher wages for continued health insurance coverage and other compromises. But those personal compromises to get satisfactory coverage will mean people can live a little longer with the status quo and want to make sure the proposed changes really will make things better for their families.

Those who support real health care reform should take note.