Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Obama's "catastrophic health care" blunder?

To provide some spending leeway to expand federal health-care subsidies, the Obama administration is reportedly considering a plan that would require wounded U.S. veterans to pay for their service-related injuries using private health insurance. (Hat tip: NRO's Campaign Spot.)

Unless you're in favor of privatizing the armed forces, the idea is not only manifestly unfair -- the nation's taxpayers have an obligation to pay for the treatment of those injured defending the country -- but it's also absolutely nuts politically. It reinforces the most damning indictments of the Democratic Party's left -- primarily that they hate the military.

Even if this idea founders, Obama will have a tough time living it down. Veterans groups have the memories of elephants, and they do not accept slights (real or imagined) gracefully.

While I was at the Rocky Mountain News, we supported a proposal by the Veterans Administration to share a new hospital with the University of Colorado rather than build a stand-alone facility. The plan would have saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, because the complex would not have to duplicate some expensive diagnostic equipment (not just the machine that goes "ping!"). It would have also arguably offered better medical care to vets.

Didn't happen. Even though Congress has approved only half the money needed to build a separate hospital at the site, it appears that a stand-alone facility is inevitable.

Looks like Obama has not followed the history of Chicago pols very closely. Two decades ago, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski's political career began to unravel when he pushed a tax increase on high-income senior citizens to pay for catastrophic coverage under Medicare.

Rosty was seemingly bulletproof before he supported means-testing. But senior groups didn't forget, and Congress actually repealed the tax increase. Moreover, Rosty showed he was vulnerable, and his opponents later uncovered the House Post Office scandal, which led to Rosty's defeat in the 1994 GOP landslide.

I'm not saying this suggestion (it's not even a policy) will be Obama's undoing, but the longer he waits to publicly drive a stake through its heart, the more trouble it'll cause him.

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