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Politics

Biden's modest health care plans vs. Trump's imaginary ones

Steve Chapman on

Health care policy has been a major issue for a long time. It played a big role in Barack Obama's 2008 election victory, his entire presidency and the 2010 GOP takeover of the House of Representatives. Repealing Obamacare was a Republican priority before and after Donald Trump became president. The debate on "Medicare for All" dominated the 2020 Democratic primaries.

Now, in the middle of the nation's worst pandemic in 100 years, you would think health care policy would be the object of obsession among politicians and voters. Instead, the issue has gone missing.

Congress is absorbed with economic stimulus and help for the unemployed. The Trump administration's favorite topic is law and order. Racial justice is paramount among Democrats right now.

But the topic may finally get some attention. "His aides are touting a speech in which Trump will lay out his health care vision," Politico reported Sunday. "White House counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway has been calling Trump 'the health care president.'"

Seriously? In June 2019, he said he would "produce phenomenal health care" with a plan he would be announcing "in two months, maybe less." We're still waiting for it.

Laying out his health care vision 3 1/2 years into his presidency would only highlight how little the issue concerned him. It's as if George W. Bush had waited until 2005 to respond to the 9/11 attacks.

 

Not that Trump has any coherent idea of how to address the problems in our health care system. His one firm idea was to undo what his predecessor did.

By his own standards, he's a failure. Candidate Trump decried the ACA as a "total disaster" and said in October 2016, "Repealing Obamacare and stopping Hillary's health care takeover is one of the single most important reasons that we must win on November 8." But he couldn't get a Republican-controlled Congress to get rid of the ACA. With some minor changes, it's alive and functioning.

Nor has the administration made any serious effort to construct an alternative that would expand coverage, reduce costs or fill the many holes in our health care system -- needs that suddenly grew more urgent with the arrival of COVID-19. The United States still has the dubious distinction of being the only major industrialized nation that does not guarantee universal health care.

In a pandemic, the gaps in coverage are particularly worrisome, because patients who go without treatment -- or work while ill for fear of losing their insurance -- make it easier for the virus to spread. Lack of access for one person may mean death for another.

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