Is Compromising With The Health Industry Bad For Health Care Reform?

This week, at least two separate articles — on in the New York Times and the other in the Washington Post — argued that the controversy surrounding the recent compromises between the health insurance industry and the Obama administration actually retarded reform efforts:

– The short-term political benefits are clear. Senior White House officials say the deals are building momentum that will help propel the health care legislation past potential opponents in the private sector and on Capitol Hill…But some lawmakers said the deals, while seemingly helpful, could raise false expectations by obscuring how much the industry is demanding for its concessions. [NYT, 7/7/2009]

– No single development appeared likely to kill Obama’s signature domestic agenda item, but the relentless barrage of challenges that seemed to hit hourly served to demonstrate why no president since Lyndon B. Johnson has been able to enact large-scale health legislation. [Washington Post, 7/9/2009]

The new deals should be openly scrutinized, but they also suggest that the health insurance industry is betting that the momentum is on the side of reform. As Jonathan Cohn has pointed out, “the drug and hospital industries are making a more important pledge: They are suggesting they will go along with legislation that changes the way they are paid.” Not only do lawmakers now have the industry playing on their side — as a posed to running attack adds — but they have also have $235 billion to invest in the system.

The back and forth we hearing about the details of each agreement is a legitimate consequence of progress. Only those who believed that the legislative process would be a smooth and seamless ride, can interpret the current process as incredibly troublesome. After all, the legislative process will produce many proposals, different amendments and varying coalitions. The challenge, for both conservatives and progressives, is to resist the knee-jerk over-reaction that characterize every minor disagreement or compromise as a death blow to reform. It’s what democracy looks like.