Democrats can salvage something


For the last month, health care reform has been teetering on the brink of death. 

This Thursday, Democrats are busting out the defibrillator.

Wonderful — except the Republicans took out the batteries a long time ago. 

Thursday is the bipartisan health care summit — an event that could theoretically be used to scrape up some type of reform. But, for progressives, hopes are exceptionally low. 

Republicans have produced a hefty list of conditions for them to even consider moving forward.

Realistically, health care reform is as dead as it ever was.

Still, Democrats have the chance to accomplish something, and they should give an arm and a leg if they have to to get it done.

The state of health care in this country is exceptionally bad. It’s virtually inevitable that in the near future we will deal with rising health care costs.

It’s best if Democrats get to slap their brand name on the solution.

It might be hard, all things considered, to believe in the inevitability of slowing costs. But there are simply no alternatives.

Health care is a uniquely diseased sector of the economy. Premiums are inflating at a much higher rate than wages — edging out potential wage increases. 

Health care is also eating up bigger portions of our economy. It currently makes up 16 percent of GDP. That’s double what it was 30 years ago, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that in 25 years it will double again. 

Health care costs are also very — in fact, almost totally — responsible for our long-term budget problem. 

Keith Hennessey, an economic advisor for W. Bush, has pointed out that this year we’ll spend $25 billion more on Medicare than the previous year. That one-year increase alone is more than total federal spending on higher education or farm subsidies. 

Again, we’re only talking about the sliver of Medicare that’s increased, not the Medicare budget as a whole!

That trend is, simply put, unsustainable. 

Taking it all in, Democrats have an opportunity to throw something that’s unequivocally important and popular — lowering costs — back in the Republicans’ faces. 

In some sense, that means abandoning the once-primary goal of insuring the uninsured. That’s been a fear of progressives for most of the process.

But that goal died with Scott Brown’s win, and reigning in costs certainly doesn’t hurt the uninsured.

For the sake of both their political futures and the American people, Democrats should take this goal and run with it.

How to actually bend back costs is a topic that’s too complicated for me and too involved for this amount of space, but there are certainly ideas out there — fee-for-service payments, excise taxes, etc.

They should all be given a turn in the spotlight.

Democrats have the opportunity to turn defeat into something, if not inspiring, at least beautifully practical.

They may even be able to sneak in some stuff for the uninsured in the process.