Opinion Columns & Blogs - INACTIVE

Hillary is best equipped to fix Obamacare

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton departs after delivering remarks at Family Health Centers in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, May 10, 2016.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton departs after delivering remarks at Family Health Centers in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, May 10, 2016. The Associated Press

Thinking about supporting a presidential candidate who blusters about repealing Obamacare?

Think again and consider this: 20 million of your friends and neighbors now have health insurance who did not have that security blanket prior to the 2010 law. Furthermore, because of Obamacare, millions of Americans with ongoing medical conditions who could never have gotten insurance at any price, now can and have because Obamacare forces insurance companies to make coverage available no matter what health conditions a person may have.

That said, of course, there are serious problems that must be addressed. For many people, the cost of coverage is indeed rising. Some insurance companies are pulling out of the market altogether. And in many communities, people may have coverage but still have difficulty finding doctors. All of this suggests the need to fix the new system, not repeal it.

So who is best qualified to take this task on? Who has the understanding and experience to fine-tune domestic policy so it fulfills its primary purpose? From the moment Bill Clinton was elected president in November 1992, political observers were openly speculating about what exactly Hillary Rodham Clinton, bound to be the most policy-savvy, activist first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt, would do to support and develop the president’s agenda.

That question was answered less than a week after the inauguration. Hillary was given responsibility by her husband for developing a health reform plan that would reshape health care in America. Ultimately some 500 experts were convened and put to work in the Old Executive Office Building at the White House. And serious, hard work it was.

I participated by helping make sure that hundreds of health professionals representing every field of medicine and health care practice had a chance to review the plan as it was being developed and weigh in with comments to help shape the final product. I also had a front-row seat to observe the new first lady in action, a chance to see a mission-driven, policy and political powerhouse enter the national stage.

Hillary wanted every view to be heard, every perspective considered. She grasped the details and impressed even the most skeptical experts with her sophisticated understanding of the arcane details that made the health care system so complex and the process of reform so daunting. Many of us saw the final proposal as a detailed plan for how to ensure that medical care would be available and affordable for all Americans.

But a massive campaign by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries and emboldened political forces defeated Clinton’s Health Security Act in the late summer of 1994.

Despite this legislative loss, Americans had an opportunity to get their first glimpse of a brilliant, hard-working first lady who had campaigned on meaningful issues for the Clinton-Gore ticket, and then brought her skills and insights to a policy battle on the national stage. The act she had worked so hard to shape failed in Congress, but Hillary was undaunted and about to demonstrate how to keep the fight going.

Hillary was especially concerned about the 10 million children who lacked access to essential health care. So she used the power of her position in the White House and her growing reputation as a policy expert to successfully advocate for one of the most important pieces of health care legislation in a generation, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program – better known as CHIP.

To get this done in a contentious Congress, Clinton went to the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy and powerful Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. The three of them built a bipartisan alliance that in 1997 passed CHIP, guaranteeing health care for millions of kids, an accomplishment nobody could have reasonably predicted a year earlier.

Later, during her years as a U.S. senator from New York, there was Hillary supporting the reauthorization of CHIP, promoting women’s health and leading the fight to make sure Ground Zero workers got the care they needed.

Bombast, rhetoric and speechifying may be, on a certain level, entertaining during the primaries. Now it’s time to get serious about what will happen on Nov. 8. Hillary Clinton makes things happen. She follows through and knows how to deal with a divided Congress, a skill we need in the White House.

Irwin Redlener, M.D., is a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and a professor at the Mailman School of Public Health, also at Columbia. Twitter: @IrwinRedlenerMD