Give John Edwards credit for pushing health care onto center stage of the presidential campaign. Whatever one may think of his plan, making the case for universal health care so forcefully and so early is a shrewd bit of positioning.
Though Hillary has already suggested that she, too, wants universal health care, she is desperate not to make this the core of her campaign. Every conversation involving her and health care brings back memories of her Ira Magaziner days, when, working out of her West Wing office, she tried to introduce an unprecedented level of bureaucracy into the American health-care delivery system. The stench of that policy debacle still follows her.
Republicans, meanwhile, should be wary about thinking they can dismiss Edwards’s call for tax increases to fund universal health care as “very good news” for GOP candidates, as Patrick Toomey of the Club for Growth argues. The genuine inadequacies of the U.S. health-care system have been part of public debate for more than a decade. It is not unreasonable to believe that frustration might drive voters to consider some universal plan paid for by the rich.
The real response to Edwards ought to be that government-imposed universal health care, as seen across Europe and Canada, is failing badly. Not only are there the familiar stories about waiting lines for surgery and treatment, there is a growing body of evidence that countries where health care is guaranteed by the government are also places where people with diabetes, heart disease, and other common chronic illnesses are not receiving the care they need. The government doesn’t want to spend the money.
Republican candidates need a serious response to how to deal with uninsured Americans. But they also need to explain why the “universal” alternative espoused by Edwards is a path to lower-quality health care.