POLICY/POLITCS: Clintoncare — a quick review

Following my piece on Hlillarycare and why it failed, Martin Goldsmith wrote to me with a slightly more comprehensive review of everything that happened. This is from a article submitted for the forthcoming 11th Presidential Conference — William Jefferson Clinton @ Hofstra University. Martin is a Philadelphia hospital system veteran who was President of National Association of Urban Hospitals during the time in question.


The climate never looked more ripe for reform than it did in 1993.

Relatively unknown Democratic candidate Harris Wofford beat popular former Governor Dick Thornburgh in the 1990 Senate race in Republican-leaning Pennsylvania on healthcare reform platform – not a lot of specifics but  “everyone deserves a doctor” got the job done .The recession of the late 80’s/very early 1990’s caused middle class suburbanites to fear the loss of health care coverage. This anxiety soon was evident throughout much of the country.

With the election of Clinton, in part, on a health reform platform, there was an air of inevitability. In, fact, it was near impossible for any group to oppose broad-based health reform and few did.

For the first time, The American Medical Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republican Senate leadership – i.e. Bob Dole, supported universal coverage and employer mandates.

While my paper focused on the Clinton healthcare legacy, it was impossible to explore that legacy without substantial exposure to the views of assorted scholars, pundit/journalists and former administration insiders as to the reasons the Clinton Administration failed:

The content is borrowed – the categories are mine

  • There really was a right wing conspiracy – immediately after the Wofford victory, Newt Gingrich began organizing to stop the Democrats (this predated Clinton’s nomination) from successfully sponsoring health reform. He feared if they owned it, the political boost would rival the decades long benefit they enjoyed from the New Deal
  • The Task Force was a huge bust
    • The anti- feminist reaction to Hilary’s appointment to lead the Task Force
    • Ira Magaziner was a kook, there was too much secrecy, the endeavor was too academic and theoretical and it took far too long
    • The Reform Task Force excluded and demonized key stakeholders – Republicans, drug companies and others almost insuring their opposition
  • In the end there was insufficient popular support
    • The economy improved – the middle-class’s fear dissipated
    • The middle class, with the help of the Clinton’s opponents, feared increased taxes to pay for the health care of the uninsured.
    • The fear of government involvement – the old socialized medical argument – the risk of the loss of privacy
    • The scandals – Whitewater, Troopergate, …caused the President to lose influence with Congress and the public
  • What did you expect, health reform was the 3rd most important domestic priority for the American people?
  • The packaging of health care as an inalienable right didn’t resonate with the public

  • The Practical Realities
    • The health care system may simply be too large & complex to really achieve a complete overall. For sure, the solution was too complex.
    • The passage of the deficit reducing/tax increasing first Clinton budget consumed too much political capital
    • The whole thing took too long. There were too many obstacles…from the illness and subsequent death of Hilary’s father to Somalia, Haiti, NAFTA…..
    • The power of the special interest groups on the Hill was too great.

  • Political Missteps
    • The Administration didn’t work with Congress soon enough. A little party unity would have gone a long way.
    • The timing was terrible; welfare reform should have gone first
    • The opponents ran a better campaign – Harry and Louise resonated with the American people. The Administration’s proposal had supporters but no real champions

“Medicare” expansion — the simpler, most obvious approach — was largely ignored!

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  1. Have you thought of Luluing this into a book and then giving it as a gratuity for site-support donations? I’ll make you a cheesy photoshop cover. 🙂