Will partisanship and bickering define the future of healthcare reform?

Published on
November 5, 2010

For those who have followed the healthcare reform debate from inception to legislation, it often seemed as though there was more misinformation and fear-mongering circulating in the public domain than accurate details.

And with Tuesday's election handing control of the House to Republicans, the divide over healthcare reform - which seems, at times, straight down party lines - will only get more pronounced, leading to the inevitable question: what will become of the healthcare reform bill before it takes effect in 2014?

To explore this issue, Harvard University put together a forum of experts. Moderator Maggie Fox, the health and science editor at Reuters, discussed Tuesday's results and what they mean for healthcare with a panel of experts who represented both sides of the political debate in a webcast today, "The Impact of the 2010 Elections on U.S. Healthcare Reform: Presented by The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health in Collaboration with Reuters." (You can watch a replay of the webcast here.)

And if anyone listening hoped that politicians could set aside partisanship for a common goal of making quality medical care accessible for everyone in the country, they were quickly relieved of that notion.

Fox opened the conversation by stating that, "the battle over healthcare reform is just beginning – Republicans are saying they will derail it, and Democrats are saying most people would love it if they understood."

And indeed, agreed the experts, Republican legislators seem intent on at least making a show of holding up the President's agenda, as well as the Democrat's desire to move forward with the bill.

To illustrate that point, the panelists predicted government coming to a near complete impasse and even coming "extremely close to having the government shut down" over the next few months, said David Cutler, a Harvard professor of applied economics who also advised Barack Obama's presidential campaign on healthcare.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the president of the American Action Forum who also served as the director of domestic and economic policy for the John McCain presidential campaign, stated with near certainty that Americans will see a repeal of the healthcare reform bill make it's way at least partially through government.

"A repeal will pass the House and die in Senate," he said. "That politics has to play out."

Added Cutler in response, "What I haven't seen, in any sense, is that there is a step two after that."

In order for the bill to be worked on in a meaningful way, Cutler suggested that people on opposing sides of the debate "would have to agree not to attack each other."

And that admonishment was not just directed towards policy-makers - he added that while about 90 percent of analysts agreed with the direction of the bill, it was the remaining ten percent that "has a lot of potential to make things be very bad, and that's what they've been doing for the past year to two years so they will have to tone it down."

When asked where we will be on the issue of healthcare reform in one year, Robert Blendon, a Harvard professor of health policy and political analysis, said that things did not look good.

"We are going to be in contentious division," he said.

Added Holtz-Eakin, Republicans - many of whom feel that "steps were skipped," won't go down without a fight.

"The notion you can move ahead quietly and get this done" is unrealistic at this point, he said. "The quiet is over - we are about to enter a roar."