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The ReidCare Debacle

Shikha Dalmia
December 16, 2009, 10:59am

In my latest Forbes column, I note that the left should celebrate the death of ReidCare. Why? Because the Senate Majority Leader's plan would have hurt the near-seniors, the very people it wanted to help. Those below 150% of the poverty level would have qualified for Medicaid. But what about those over?

They won't qualify for Medicaid. The Medicare buy-in, likely their best option, would have cost them around $15,200, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office of a previous proposal. Individuals making over 150% of the poverty level, or $16,500, would have had to pay $7,600.

In other words, come 2011, when the individual mandate will kick in--if Democrats succeed--the uninsured working poor in the 55-to-64 age group would have had to fork over a whopping 50% to 70% of their income to buy into Medicare. Sen. Reid planned to help these folks with subsidies ... by 2014. But what were they supposed to live on until then? His good intentions? How could he and his comrades in good conscience believe it is right to force people to buy coverage now--under threat of fines or jail, mind you--while leaving any relief to the vagaries of politics years from now?

If Americans are dying due to lack of insurance, as Ezra Klein, the writer who called Lieberman a mass murderer, believes they are, can Klein imagine how many more would be driven to starvation, ruin and possible death if ReidCare confiscated a big chunk of their wages every year in order to achieve universal coverage?

What the ReidCare debacle shows is that the left has not a clue about how to promote its agenda in an incremental yet principled way. However, it can look for guidance from the school choice movement.

Many free-market advocates (like me) believe the best way to improve education is to get the government completely out of the business of running schools. But they also understand that they can't simply will away public schools overnight. Hence, they have accepted all kinds of half-way measures, including school vouchers, education credits and charter schools, that give at least some parents a way out of their dysfunctional public schools. Over time, the hope is that these market-based reforms will prove their efficacy over government-based solutions and lead to a fully privatized system.

But here's the thing: If the entire school choice movement were suddenly stopped in its tracks so that not another voucher was handed out or a charter school opened, choice advocates could still live with themselves secure in the knowledge that the partial changes they did make helped many and left no one worse off.

Could ReidCare advocates honestly have said the same? No. What the Medicare buy-in idea reveals is that the left cares little about who it tramples in its health care battle so long as it can keep marching toward socialized medicine. Americans can sense this triumph of ideology over humanity, which is why they are abandoning Democratic reform efforts in droves. If Democrats want to win them back, instead of ramming something through the Senate as they are hoping to do, they ought to pause till they recover their moral compass. Otherwise, they will have a hard time finding their way back to Capitol Hill next November.


Shikha Dalmia is Senior Analyst


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