Washington Matters


Muzzling Talks on Health Care Isn't the Answer



What's the most aggravating thing about Washington? Everyone has their own long list, but you can bet that near the top of many is the unwillingness to negotiate or compromise. From the current deadlock that allowed a key spy law to lapse to an expansion of a child health insurance, rigid adherence to ideology makes the perfect the enemy of the good.

Nowhere is that more true that on health care. That's why it was so significant when the National Federation of Independent Businesses announced that it would join an unusual alliance on health care reform -- Divided We Fail -- that includes groups it once fought tooth and nail. 

But what many regarded as a propitious sign, some evidently interpret as near betrayal. A policy organization dedicated to finding free-market solutions to health care issues, the Galen Institute, says NFIB is getting into bed with the enemy. Really?

Grace-Marie Turner, the president of Galen, rightly points out that NFIB has a long history of vigorously and effectively opposing health care initiatives that it considers onerous to its members -- especially solutions that call for increased regulation and mandates.

But she is alarmed that an NFIB survey indicates indicates that over half of its members support the concept of requiring individuals to have health insurance. Turner appears to be reacting to the feeling that the ground is crumbling beneath her favorite cause's feet. The business community, overwhelmed by the cost of health care to it and its employees, is clearly more willing to consider health reform measures that once seemed unacceptable. That's underscored by the fact that Divided We Fail is, indeed, an odd coalition. So far its members represent seniors (AARP), workers  (the Service Employees International Union), small business (NFIB) and big business (the Business Roundtable).

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Turner and Galen are eloquent, knowledgeable and thoughtful advocates for important reform ideas -- ideas that may very well be part of a reform plan. But Turner does her cause little good by attacking efforts to build consensus among stakeholders who have very different needs and ideas but recognize the severity of a shared problem. Such a reaction runs the risk of isolating a viewpoint and voice that might be extremely valuable as a reform effort picks up speed.



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