Gephardt: Universal Coverage ‘Cannot Pass This Year’, Health Care Reform Should Be ‘Incremental’

gephardt.jpgFormer Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO) is urging the White House to defer the goal of expanding access to health insurance “until it enacts cost-saving reforms in health care delivery“:

“I feel so much now like déjà vu all over again,” said Mr. Gephardt, who now lobbies for corporate America on issues including health care. Universal coverage “is absolutely imperative, and it needs to be dealt with. But the way to get to it is to show that we can deal with some of these problems first”…According to Mr. Gephardt, incremental additions of coverage for children or low-income workers may be the most Congress can muster to complement cost containment.

The administration and most progressives typically argue the contrary: one can’t control health care costs without extending health insurance coverage to the 47 million Americans without insurance. That is, to eliminate the $1,100 an average family is now paying for uncompensated care for those without health insurance, provide families with financial security, and to address the skyrocketing costs of chronic disease management, reform must ensure that all Americans have access to continuous health care.

In fact, during the 2004 presidential campaign, Gephardt spoke of the need to expand access to coverage in such dire and emotional terms, that one would expect the former majority leader to embrace Obama’s commitment comprehensive health reform. During the campaign, for instance, Gephardt promised that if he were elected president, he would “immediately” ensure that “everyone who works will have health coverage.”

Gephardt argued that “access to quality health care is the moral issue of our time” and portrayed himself — in a rather dramatic fight with Gov. Howard Dean (D-VT) — as the only candidate who could address the health care crisis:

– “Howard Dean and the other candidates may think leaving tens of millions of Americans uninsured is acceptable….I think they’re wrong.” [NYT, 01/03/2004]

– Gephardt promised that if he reached the Oval Office he would immediately seek to repeal recent tax cuts. The money would be used to give tax credits to businesses, which would be required to provide health insurance to employees. Pension systems also should be simplified, he said, because too many Americans reach retirement without their finances secure. “Everyone who works will have health care,” Gephardt said. [Chicago Tribune, 02/20/2003]

– “It is immoral to have people without health insurance,” he said, speaking to about 70 people on the lawn of a Manchester home. “This issue is in my heart. It’s in my head. It’s in my soul. I will not rest until I get the people health insurance.” [Chicago Tribune, 07/22/2003]

– “Today in this country there is a great divide, a Grand Canyon between those who have health coverage and those who do not. And for too many, trying to cross from one side to the other is a hopeless pursuit.” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 04/24/2003]

– “We have proven our mettle at liberating oppressed peoples. Let us prove our worth at liberating millions of Americans from economic oppression and a life without health care.” [NY Daily News, 04/24/2003]

The current economic crisis demands health reform. Approximately 14,000 Americans are losing health insurance coverage every day, and skyrocketing health care costs could threaten America’s economic growth and prosperity. Containing health care costs is impossible without expanding coverage, and today, the “great divide” “between those who have coverage and those who do not” couldn’t be wider.