I know it’s hard to imagine in 2012, but there was a time when health care was not a partisan issue. NPR correspondent Julie Rovner, who joins Eight Forty-Eight on Tuesday, said the health beat used to be “a backwater” when she got started in the 1980s. Issues like how to pay doctors and the government’s role in insuring Americans weren’t subjects in electoral politics.
That is, until an upstart candidate running in a special election to replace the late Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania asked: "Prisoners receive free medical care. Shouldn't Pennsylvanians and all Americans expect the same thing?"
The question persuaded enough Pennsylvanians to make Democrat Harris Wofford the victor over former governor Dick Thornburgh in 1991. It also inspired the Clinton administration’s notorious attempt to reform health care a few years later. “Hillary’s plan solidified health care as a polarizing issue,” Rovner said.
The issues were the same then as now: millions of uninsured, pre-existing conditions are a barrier to coverage, the rising cost of care. “[Clinton's] plan wasn’t all that different than Obama’s but it had a stronger element of cost control. It had more government involvement,” she said.
Now, almost 20 years later, the first federal law passed to address those issues is in the hands of the Supreme Court. Later this month, the justices are expected to weigh in on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
While the court’s decision is anybody’s guess, it’s certain that if the insurance mandate gets struck down, it will cause headaches for all involved. While Republican critics in state government and in Congress pan the mandate, many privately admit that it could be political suicide to do away with popular aspects of the bill, like the requirement to cover children under the age of 26 whose parents are insured, or pre-existing conditions.
To make matters even more complicated, the Obama administration supports doing away with the pre-existing conditions provision in the absence of the mandate because of concerns about cost.
What’s at stake for you? Share your story or ask NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner a question by calling 312.923.9239.