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Atul Gawande Sees a Near-Consensus on Health Care Reform

Atul is encouraged by what he sees a near-consensus

The Obama Health Plan - New York Times: This week, Barack Obama released his health reform plan. It’s a puzzle how you are supposed to regard presidential candidates’ proposals. They are treated, by campaigns and media alike, as some kind of political G.P.S. device — gadgets primarily for political positioning. So this was how Mr. Obama’s plan was reported:... ho hum — another centrist plan. No one except policy wonks will tell the proposals apart from one another.

Well, all this may be true. And if what you care about is which candidate can one-up the others, it is rather disappointing. But if what you care about is whether, after the 2008 election, we’ll be in a position to finally stop the health systems’ downward spiral, the similarity of the emerging proposals is exactly what’s interesting.... [T]here is... a road forward being paved... not just presidential candidates, but governors from California to Pennsylvania, unions and businesses like Safeway, ATT and Pepsi.... It is not single-payer. It instead follows the lead of European countries ranging from the Netherlands to Switzerland to Germany that provide universal coverage (and more doctors, hospitals and access to primary care) through multiple private insurers while spending less money than we do. The proposals all define basic benefits that insurers must offer without penalty for pre-existing conditions. They cover not just expensive sickness care, but also preventive care and cost-saving programs to give patients better control of chronic illnesses like diabetes and asthma.

We’d have a choice of competing private plans, and, with Edwards and Obama, a Medicare-like public option, too. An income-related federal subsidy... shared responsibility — requiring that individuals buy health insurance (at minimum for their children) and that employers bigger than 10 or 15 employees either provide health benefits or pay into a subsidy fund. It is a coherent approach. And it seems to be our one politically viable approach, too....

[A]ttacks are certain to label this as tax-and-spend liberalism and government-controlled health care. But these are not what will sabotage success. Instead, the crucial matter is our reaction as a country when the attacks come. If we as consumers, health professionals and business leaders sit on our hands, unwilling to compromise and defend change, we will be doomed to our sliding global competitiveness and self-defeating system. Avoiding this will take extraordinary political leadership. So we should not even consider a candidate without a plan capable of producing agreement. The ultimate measure of leadership... is the capacity to take that plan and persuade people to find common ground in it. The politician who can is the one we want.