When it comes to health care reform, Senator Hillary Clinton is fixated on universal coverage. Her plan promises it; Senator Barack Obama’s health care reform package doesn’t. She considers it a moral responsibilty and a litmus test for her party. So she pounds her opponent on the issue in virtually every speech she gives. It doesn’t seem to have much impact as he continues to build momentum. The time has come, and passed, for her to change her message.
Senator Clinton has seized on the right flaw in her opponent’s reform proposal, but is using it to make the wrong point. Unlike her own plan, Senator Obama does not require everyone to buy coverage. This does mean, as Senator Clinton points out, it is unlikely to lead to universal coverage. But it’s worse than that. Because Senator Obama requires carriers to issue policies to all applicants, but fails to require consumers to buy coverage, it’s out of balance. As I point out on my Health Care Reform blog, this imbalance means that Senator Obama’s health reform package can’t lower health insurance premiums. And lowering costs is the central justification for his entire plan.
This isn’t a policy wonk argument. Her own state of New York is an example of what Senator Obama is proposing. And premiums there are twice what they are in California.
The imbaance is easy to explain, just compare it to allowing drivers to wait until after they have an accident to buy car insurance. Senator Clinton could, with just a slight shift in her attack on Senator Obama’s plan, emphasize how her experience on the issue helped her avoid such a “rookie error.” This, in turn, would bolster her “ready on day one” mantra. It’s a small, but easy pivot to make.
It does, however, require Senator Clinton to recognize that her current approach isn’t working any more. Whether she can do that remains to be seen.