Clinton Backs Down From Health Care Fight For Second Time in Her Career

For the second time in her career, Hillary Clinton has signaled retreat on her signature issue, health care.

During the Democratic debate, Clinton said she wouldn’t fight for the type of single-payer system she once supported because she’s afraid of what might happen during a contentious debate.

Now, there are things we can do to improve it, but to tear it up and start over again, pushing our country back into that kind of a contentious debate, I think is the wrong direction.

She repeated her fear that a debate threatens progress already made.

…To start over again with a whole new debate is something that I think would set us back. The Republicans just voted last week to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and thank goodness, President Obama vetoed it and saved Obamacare for the American people.

On the campaign trail she expressed concern that such a debate could “strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.” I guess it’s always 3am somewhere.

It’s a surprising move after months of Clinton’s campaign re-branding her as a fighter

This isn’t the first time Clinton chose to avoid the hard fight. After her failure to pass a health care bill in 1993, she removed the words “universal health care” from her vocabulary for the next decade. Many Democrats followed her example by sticking to safe, focus-group tested slogans about “prescription drugs for seniors” and protecting medicare. Even George W. Bush and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich joined the bandwagon with senior prescription drug programs.

I entered the workforce during that time and struggled to pay for the asthma medication I badly needed. I constantly heard Clinton (and other Democrats following the trend) repeat talk points about “prescription drugs for seniors” and wondered why my health care needs weren’t worth fighting for, especially since young workers are the least likely to have coverage.

Clinton’s long term strategy to focus on the age demographic which votes in the highest numbers paid off. Voters over 65 are still her strongest supporters in Iowa and nationally

There was still some progress during that time. Clinton supported Ted Kennedy’s SCHIP bill to create a state-administered program for children, though she more recently opposes programs administered by states.

But the goal of “universal health care” largely disappeared from the national conversation until Howard Dean’s Presidential campaign put it back on the table. It took someone else changing the national debate before Clinton re-joined the fight.

Democrats must prepare for the next health care backlash set to happen during the 2016 election. Obamacare is not a plan for universal health care. It’s a plan for mandatory health insurance. Millions of Americans are being forced into private health insurance or face paying a tax penalty that goes up this year. Many will be pushed into high deductible insurance they can’t afford to use for actual health care. 

Republicans have a solution for anyone angry about being forced into insurance they can’t afford to pay or use: repeal. Democrats must have a better answer or risk losing the election.

Clinton’s answer is to defend the status quo of a system designed to keep the insurance industry profitable. Sanders has a plan for replacing bad insurance with real health care. It’s clear which answer will better appeal to millions of working class voters Democrats need in November.

You can learn the most about a leader by how they respond to defeat. Whether it was right for Clinton to back down from the big fight and make small progress after ‘93 is a judgement call people can agree or disagree with.

What Clinton showed us during the debate is that, if elected, advocates who want significant progress, like a single-payer program, will have an opponent in the White House repeating Republican talking points. Clinton may be a fighter, but not for the next big step toward the kind of health care system America badly needs.