Yesterday, despite conservative assertions that America is a “center right” country “not ready for a liberal agenda,” Americans loudly rejected the failed conservative ideology of the past eight years and embraced, with equal jubilation, Barack Obama’s progressive policy prescriptions. “Obama ran on the most progressive platform of any presidential candidate in at least 15 years, including a promise of universal health care coverage, a dramatic transformation to a low-carbon economy, and a historic investment in education,” the Center for American Progress Action Fund points out.
In some ways, health care policy became the centerpiece of Obama’s campaign. Obama “devoted 68 percent of his total TV advertising this year to ads that include health care themes” in which he successfully defined Sen. McCain’s health care plan as a reactionary proposal that would endanger employer benefits and leave millions without insurance.
According to a Pew research poll from mid-October, most American’s agreed with Obama’s interpretation:
- 77 percent said that in making the decision about who to vote for, health care would be very important
- 57 percent think Obama would do the best job of improving the health care system.
- 58 percent support the U.S. government guaranteeing health insurance for all citizens, even if it means raising taxes
Exit polls may lead some to a different conclusion. Sixty percent of voters picked the economy “as the most important issue facing the nation, according to preliminary polling.” None of the four other issues listed by exit pollsters — “energy, Iraq, terrorism and health care — was picked by more than one in 10 people.” But addressing the economic crisis without addressing growing health care costs, is like digging a hole without a shovel.
The fact is, the health care crisis and the financial crisis exacerbate the economic health of individual Americans and U.S. companies and policymakers who ignore this link, run the risk of further eroding our economy.
According to Congressional Budget Office Director Peter Orszag, “the nation’s looming fiscal gap… is driven primarily by rising health care costs”:
If we fail to put the nation on a sounder fiscal course. . . we will ultimately reach a point where investors [will] lose confidence and no longer be as willing to purchase Treasury debt at anything but exorbitant interest rates.
Thus, so far as the American people are demanding economic reform and stability, policy makers have a mandate to address health care costs and access. The majority of Americans support covering the uninsured and granting government a larger role in making health insurance affordable and accessible.
Progressives have successfully beat-back the misguided belief that cost containment should be the only goal of health reform. As Elizabeth Edwards has argued, coverage for all and cost containment “are on different sides of the same Rubik’s cube” and we can only solve problem of increasing costs by expanding access. A pragmatic approach to health care reform would strengthen the role of the group market and reduce health care spending by reorienting the health care system toward proven prevention and chronic disease management.
Thus, the question is not whether we can afford to ensure that all Americans have health coverage. The question is whether or not we can afford to leave people behind.
Fortunately, yesterday’s election told us that we can’t.