The disconnect between the political rhetoric of health reform, and the substance of health reform, is staggering.
Back in 2003, California had passed the first of several recent attempts at health reform: a requirement on employers to cover at least 80% of the coverage of their workers. (It would be signed by Governor Gray Davis, but narrowly overturned the next year by referendum, leading to a renewed sense that victory was possible.)
After following committee hearings and being immersed in the details of the bill, the legislation finally came to a vote on the Assembly and Senate floor. I was struck then about how those floor debates were so broad as to mischaracterize the bill, which Health Access supported. Republicans railed against “socialized medicine” and “Hillarycare.” Democrats argued that “health care is a right.” The bill, which neither provided socialized health care, nor health care as a right, seemed merely a vehicle to talk from existing worldviews and talking points. I guessed that made sense for legislators not on the relevant committees and not versed in the issue.
But in the various state-based health reform debates, I hadn’t seen that gulf as wide as it is now, with talk of “death panels” and “euthanasia” that have no basis in any bill. Maybe the national spotlight brings out the extremes, or the stakes are higher, but wow.
Some have made the case that perhaps another bill would have been harder to demonize. I take the opposite lesson: the opposition seems content just to make stuff up out of thin air. Thesubstance of the bill has no bearing on the vitriol and attacks against it. The only solace for the supporters is to have a bill where the substance makes it possible to be able to make declarative statements to counter the lies.