Mrs. Clinton Has Entered the Race: The 2004 Democratic Presidential Candidates’ Proposals to Reform Health Insurance

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In 1992 Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas unseated incumbent President George H. W. Bush in part by tapping voter dissatisfaction with the rising cost of health insurance and the growing number of Americans without health insurance. Despite a massive legislative campaign directed by then‐​first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Clinton administration’s sweeping proposal to increase federal control over the health care sector languished and eventually died in Congress. Today, with health insurance costs once again rising at double‐​digit rates and the number of uninsured Americans at a new high, the Democratic candidates for president have lined up their own health insurance reform proposals. The major candidates are Army Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.), former governor of Vermont Howard Dean, Sen. John Edwards (NC), Sen. John Kerry (MA), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH), Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT), and Rev. Al Sharpton. Before leaving the race, Rep. Richard Gephardt (MO) also put forward a major health care proposal.

Unfortunately, the candidates’ health plans reflect the same misconceptions as and rely on approaches similar to those of the failed Clinton health plan. Like the Clinton health plan, they misdiagnose what ails the health care sector; would attempt to direct the provision of health care from Washington, DC, through increased taxes, government spending, and bureaucratic control; and would magnify the perverse incentives created by past government interventions. Like that of the Clinton health plan, their response to the use of unconstitutional government power in the health care sector is to wield even more unconstitutional power.

The five major candidates early on in the 2004 race (Clark, Dean, Edwards, Kerry, and Lieberman) would each have taken incremental steps toward a government‐​run health care system. The two long‐​shot candidates in the race (Kucinich and Sharpton) would have taken a more aggressive approach, calling for an immediate government takeover. Although Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) disappointed many Democratic Party faithful by forgoing a race for president this year, judging by the health care proposals in the field of contenders, her influence is being clearly felt.

Michael F. Cannon

Michael Cannon is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas.