About 16 years ago, the state of Florida passed health care reforms that promised at least a beginning for universal coverage offering both public and private options. Pushing through those reforms, which were touted at the time as a possible model for national reform, was Gov. Lawton Chiles.
Chiles grew up in agri-industrial Polk County, Fla., and he knew that those who toiled in the phosphate mines, orange groves and processing plants were not getting a fair shake in many ways, and in particular in access to quality health care.
As governor, he also was dealing with an aging population, exploding demand and soaring costs. Sound familiar? Like other states that passed similar changes, Chiles’ efforts in Florida were seen as a precursor to much more sweeping reform at the national level.
Fast forward to now, and we’re still waiting for that new-and-improved health care system. Meanwhile, the one we’re forced to live with is eating us alive.
The sticking point at this moment in history is the so-called public option. This debate is not new. It has lasted generations. Harry Truman first proposed a public option on his watch, but it wasn’t until Lyndon Johnson was able to pass Medicaid and Medicare over howling objections of “socialized medicine” that the promise started to become a reality.
As you may have noticed lately, the debate is hardly over, and if he were still around it might be interesting to hear from Walkin’ Lawton his thoughts on how his niece, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, is handling the issue.
Reports from our nation’s capital contend that Hagan is one of two Democratic senators on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (that’s right – HELP) blocking consideration of a public option in the latest health reform legislation. Blocking, as in the HELP committee’s Democratic leadership is so worried that Hagan will vote against the public option in committee that they’re reluctant to raise it and see it voted down.
The public option, as reported elsewhere on this page and in other media sources, is a check on the spiraling costs of the industry and a lower-cost option to help many of those now uninsured into a plan. In a replay of the battles from a generation ago, the scare tactics being employed warn that the latest attempt at health care reform is a government takeover of the industry and that rationing and scary, sterile waiting rooms with bureaucrats and ominous, foreboding music await us all.
Those tactics worked in the past and have prevented meaningful reform. Now, with 47 million Americans uninsured, costs spiraling out of sight and a broken, unequal system, the same old pitch is being heard. And that message is greased with millions in PAC cash.
To Hagan’s credit, she is not among the senators positively dripping in health care PAC money and reluctant to vote against the industry’s wishes as a result. That’s cold comfort though, as she does appear willing to vote with that industry and against the interests of the people who sent her to Washington.
Last year on the campaign trail, Hagan was unequivocal about the need for comprehensive change in our health care system. That helped win her the vote of 2,249,311 North Carolinians.
She was victorious in part because her views on health care appeared to differ dramatically from those of Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Now that real change is on the table, that difference is becoming harder to see. And daylight is growing more visible between Hagan and that son of the Florida heartland with whom she fondly claims kinship.