10.09.2007

A Socialized Medicine History Lesson

Great piece in Slate Magazine about the history of the term "Socialized Medicine" as a judybat to whack back attempts at health care reform. While Bush never ceases to amaze, I was floored when he used this as the argument for opposing the expansion of children's health care. Socializing costs of anything is one thing governments can be good at -- whether it is to pay for an aircraft carrier or health insurance for 43 million people. The current system already socializes the costs, but does so inefficiently, at greater cost to employers and those with insurance. That said, this is really a political tool to maintain the status quo, not a philisophical difference. As such, it may be a desperate, loosing one at that. As Slate concludes:

Newt Gingrich, then House minority whip, blasted Clinton's plan as a throwback to the kind of "centralized, command bureaucracies" that were dying across Eastern Europe.

But if these attacks ginned up some hostility to Clinton's plan, the real problem was more fundamental. As political scientist Jacob Hacker has argued, the basic obstacle was nothing less than the government's failure to have adopted a comprehensive health insurance plan decades earlier. As a result, the system that emerged by 1994 entailed such a crazy quilt of private interests—corporations, small firms, insurers, doctors, unions, HMOs, and so on—that moving all Americans into a new framework without worsening anyone's situation had become virtually impossible. Many of these interest groups (including doctors) actually favored reform in the abstract. But no particular plan was going to please them all.

Perhaps, then, the socialized medicine scare tactic really has run its course. The Republicans' decision to dust it off for one more battle may say more about their party's continued sprint to the right-wing extreme than about any intrinsic public hostility to government social programs. If this is the case, then Democrats might be wise to offer health-care proposals that don't upend the status quo, while brushing off the socialized medicine attacks as atavistic Cold War-era alarmism. Which seems to be, for the moment, precisely what they're doing."

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