Jonah Goldberg

The year was 1993. Israel and the PLO signed an agreement on the White House lawn that, we were told, would lead to a lasting peace. Islamic terrorists tried to blow up the World Trade Center. When they were finally convicted, the federal government claimed an important message had been sent to terrorists everywhere: Stay away from the USA. The president also ordered the bombing of Iraq that year, to send another important signal that misbehavior in Mesopotamia would not be tolerated. On the home front, the president put his wife in charge of overhauling the health care system.

Well, considering this boffo record of success, it seems only fitting that Sen. Hillary Clinton would head back to the health care well.

To paraphrase William Faulkner: History isn’t dead; it’s not even past. This time around, though, Clinton claims history isn’t repeating itself with her new health care plan. Far from it: She has learned from her mistakes, and she’s “got the scars to prove it.” This time Clinton — as well as several of her primary opponents — proposes “flexible” reforms that would preserve consumer “choice.” This is supposedly the grand lesson Clinton learned from her many political scars: People don’t want government-run health care.

But she might want to study her mistakes a bit more closely because her alternative is to provide government-run health insurance, which ultimately is the same thing. Clinton’s plan would yank insurance regulation from the states and impose a series of federal mandates on employers, individuals and insurance companies. Insurers would have to cover anybody who knocks on their door. Individuals would be required by law to have health coverage, just as drivers are required to have auto insurance. Clinton claims she would make her system affordable by regulating both premiums and benefits, offering tax breaks and subsidies to the poor and middle class, and by offering a fallback government-run plan that would compete with the private plans. The Democrats insist this doesn’t amount to government-run health care, but it would be more honest to say that it doesn’t amount to government-run health care right away.

First of all, forcing people to buy health insurance whether they want to or not is somewhat at odds with the idea that her plan champions “choice.” More important, forcing companies to cover everybody means the risk pool for insurance companies gets riskier and, hence, more expensive. Costs would rise, and so young healthy people would rationally opt for as little coverage as possible, because presumably bare-bones coverage would be much cheaper.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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