Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Health Care Reform in the Budget

It appears the Senate Dems are getting set to include fundamental health care reform in the version of the state budget they pass in the coming weeks.

The GOP is attacking this move because it won't guarantee public hearings on the plan. On the surface, Republicans have a point. Something as significant as health care reform deserves to go under public scrutiny (real public scrutiny, not the conveniently-orchestrated stuff). Republicans clearly aren't interested in repeating another situation like we had with the Milwaukee school voucher program where a major public policy was passed through the budget without a single public hearing.

But, on the other hand, the Dems spent the entire spring bringing their three health care reform plans before the public in countless cities and towns throughout the state, and the plan that's going to be in the budget is an amalgamation of those plans and the input lawmakers received from the public hearings on them.

Plus, the Dems freely admit that fundamental health care reform is not going to be a part of the final budget that gets signed by the governor. It's not like they're going to stall the budget until they get their way; I mean, who does that?

Fundamental health care reform is going to need to wait until the Dems control the Assembly, the Senate, and the Governor's office. Before then, it doesn't matter if the bill is a standalone or part of the budget, it's just not going to pass.

Including the reform plan in the budget does, however, have one important difference than simply introducing it as a standalone bill: media coverage.

The media -- at least the political media -- is going to be all over the budget for the next few months, especially considering how contentious the talks will be between the Democratic Senate and the Republican Assembly. Tossing fundamental health care reform into the mix is sure to bring it a decent amount of press, as opposed to the cricket chirps that accompanied all three standalone measures the Dems introduced during the last legislative session.

In the end, though, this is just a set-up year. Next year the task will be to leverage the lack of health care reform -- among other points -- in the election. And, if all goes well, fundamental health care reform will be in a position to make it all of the way through the next budget process (with its own public hearings, of course).

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Blogger xoff said...

There are a lot of reasons to support universal access to quality, affordable health care, but this isn't one of them:

"The argument for it is it would be closer to reality," Erpenbach said. "It would force the Republicans to talk about health care, which we think is the biggest issue people are concerned with in the state. If you don't do it, you don't force their hand as much."

If Democrats are going to try to do the right thing on this major issue, they should start talking about the reasons to do it, not make it sound like some kind of political gamesmanship.

June 19, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Good point. There seems to be a fine line between getting something out there to generate a discussion on it and awareness of it, and tossing something out there to simply stymie progress. I'd argue that's what separates what the Dems are doing with health care and what the GOP is doing with taxes; the Dems are clear they're not going to let health care be a sticking point that doesn't allow the budget to be passed, while the GOP is making it very clear taxes will be a roadblock. But, you're right, the Dems need to be careful not to cross the line into gamemanship, and part of doing that is focusing on the need for fundamental health care reform in its own right rather than framing it as a pawn in the budget process.

June 19, 2007  

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