Hillary's 20 Year Fight for Universal Healthcare

Hillary Clinton has been a force in healthcare reform since the early days of President Bill Clinton’s presidency. During the 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton had promised to develop a comprehensive plan that would provide universal healthcare to all Americans. After the election, Hillary was named chairperson of the task force that was given the mandate to develop a plan that could pass the Democrat-controlled Congress.

After months of hearings on what came to be known as ‘Hillarycare,’ the task force released its bill which came to more than 1,300 pages and was referred to as the Health Security Act. In summary, the Clinton health plan would have required every American citizen to enroll and remain in a health care plan. It provided for coverage of various illnesses and established a maximum amount of out of pocket expenses. People below a certain income level were to be enrolled at no cost.

Early Days

Opposition to the plan came from both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans criticized the plan as taking away free choice in health care, being overly bureaucratic, and too complicated and unrealistic. Many were critical that the plan had been shaped in secret by a small panel in the White House without input from members of Congress. Democrats in Congress offered competing plans that went nowhere and by August 1994, the proposal was dead.

Our most critical mistake was trying to do too much, too fast. That said, I still believe we were right to try.
— Hillary Clinton – Living History

In the aftermath of the defeat, the Republicans won control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1954 and many Democrats laid the blame on Hillary’s doorstep for having overreached with Hillarycare.

In 2005 Hillary told The New York Times, “I learned some valuable lessons about the legislative process, the importance of bipartisan cooperation and the wisdom of taking small steps to get a big job done.” She acknowledged that she had found areas of agreement with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, which eventually led to the passing in 1997 of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Success with State Children’s Health Insurance Program

Hillary showed that she had learned from the 1994 experience and took a behind the scenes role in the SCHIP bill which was sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy. In August 1997, The New York Times reported, “participants in the campaign for the health bill both on and off Capitol Hill said the First Lady had played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in lining up White House support.” Sen. Kennedy later told the Associate Press, “The children’s health program wouldn’t be in existence today if we didn’t have Hillary pushing for it from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue,”

So, how does Hillarycare compare with Obamacare? While there are numerous similarities between the plan devised by Hillary Clinton in 1994 and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010, most observers credit the Massachusetts health care plan that Gov. Mitt Romney signed into law in 2006 as being the model for the Affordable Care Act. Hillary also acknowledged the Romney plan during the 2008 campaign and significantly modified her original plan to make it more acceptable to the insurance industry whose opposition had led to its downfall.

Hillary’s Approach to Healthcare Today

In the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton has continued to push forward new initiatives for healthcare reform. In early July she announced a plan to allow people to enroll in Medicare when they turn 55. Clinton has stated, “Health care is a basic right. We are 90 percent covered, we gotta get to 100 percent, and then we gotta get cost down and make it work for everybody. And even though we didn't get it then, we've got it now, and I'm going to defend it and improve it.”

The debate over healthcare will play a significant role in the campaign between Clinton and Trump. The standard Republican mantra is to repeal Obamacare and restore free market competition for health care with less government involvement. The argument is that enhanced competition will drive down costs and make health insurance affordable to a larger group. Trump’s platform does state, “we must also make sure that no one slips through the cracks simply because they cannot afford insurance. We must review basic options for Medicaid and work with states to ensure that those who want healthcare coverage can have it.”

I’m also in favor of what’s called the public option, so that people can buy into Medicare at a certain age.
— Hillary Clinton

Hillary has rejected supporting the single payer system advocated by Sen. Bernie Sanders as being too expensive and too complicated, not to mention that it would be unlikely to make it through Congress. Her healthcare plan would build on the Affordable Care Act by expanding access to Medicare for people 55 and older via the “public option,” and allow states to expand coverage beyond the ACA. Hillary also embraced one of Sander’s proposals of doubling funding for community health care clinics to provide care for uninsured Americans. She called for increasing the funding for that service by $40 billion over the next ten years.

Hillary Clinton’s 1994 experience with Hillarycare taught her the value of taking a more pragmatic approach to enacting public policy. She has come to realize that in our democratic system, compromise is an essential component of enacting change and that are two sides of every issue.

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