« Fed Watch: More Will They or Won’t They or When Will They | Main | FRBSF: Labor Supply Responses to Changes in Wealth and Credit »

Friday, January 30, 2009

Paul Krugman: Health Care Now

Now is not the time to back off of the push for health care reform:

Health Care Now, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The whole world is in recession. But the United States is the only wealthy country in which ... millions of people will lose their health insurance along with their jobs, and therefore lose access to essential care.

Which raises a question: Why has the Obama administration been silent ... about one of President Obama’s key promises...—... guaranteed health care for all Americans? ...

Just about all economic forecasts ... say that we’re in for a prolonged period of very high unemployment. And high unemployment means a sharp rise in the number of Americans without health insurance. ... Why, then, aren’t we hearing more about ensuring health care access?

Now, it’s possible that those of us who care about this issue are reading too much into the administration’s silence. But let me address three arguments that I suspect Mr. Obama is hearing against moving on health care, and explain why they’re wrong.

First, some people are arguing that a major expansion of health care access would just be too expensive ... given the vast sums we’re about to spend trying to rescue the economy.

But ... achieving universal coverage with a plan similar to Mr. Obama’s campaign proposals would add “only” about $104 billion to federal spending in 2010 — not a small sum,... but not large compared with, say, the tax cuts in the Obama stimulus plan.

It’s true that the cost of universal health care will be a continuing expense... But ... Mr. Obama has always claimed that his health care plan was affordable. The temporary expenses of his stimulus plan shouldn’t change that calculation.

Second, some people in Mr. Obama’s circle may be arguing that health care reform isn’t a priority right now, in the face of economic crisis.

But helping families purchase health insurance ... would be at least as effective a way of boosting the economy as the tax breaks that make up roughly a third of the stimulus plan — and it would have the added benefit of ... ending one of the major sources of Americans’ current anxiety.

Finally — and this is, I suspect, the real reason for the administration’s health care silence — there’s the political argument that this is a bad time to be pushing fundamental health care reform, because the nation’s attention is focused on the economic crisis. But if history is any guide, this argument is precisely wrong. ...

F.D.R. was able to enact Social Security in part because the Great Depression highlighted the need for a stronger social safety net. And the current crisis presents a real opportunity to fix the gaping holes that remain in that safety net, especially with regard to health care.

And Mr. Obama really, really doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of Bill Clinton, whose health care push failed politically partly because he moved too slowly...

One more thing. There’s a populist rage building ... as Americans see bankers getting huge bailouts while ordinary citizens suffer.

I agree ... financial bailouts are necessary (though I have problems with the specifics). But I also agree with Barney Frank ... who argues that — as a matter of political necessity as well as social justice — aid to bankers has to be linked to a strengthening of the social safety net, so that Americans can see that the government is ready to help everyone, not just the rich and powerful.

The bottom line, then, is that this is no time to let campaign promises of guaranteed health care be quietly forgotten. It is, instead, a time to put the push for universal care front and center. Health care now!

    Posted by on Friday, January 30, 2009 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Health Care, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (123)

    TrackBack

    TrackBack URL for this entry:
    https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b33869e2010537030f1b970c

    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Paul Krugman: Health Care Now:


    Comments

    Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.