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November 3, 2013

HOWEY: Festering partisanship and the sins of Obamacare

INDIANAPOLIS — As Obamacare careens into its second month of implementation, the one conclusion I am coming to is that we may have lost the ability to govern ourselves. My faith in government is eroding like a sand castle on a Lake Michigan dune.

In surveying the eroded leadership, partisan grandstanding, polarization and policy sclerosis, U.S. Sen. Dan Coats told me last week that he is concerned by this loss of faith. Pew Research found only 19 percent trust the federal government, near an all-time low. “That’s a dangerous thing for democracy when you lose the opinion of people and institutions who sent you,” Coats observed. “That is a very dangerous thing.”

In the decade leading up to the Affordable Care Act, I was personally confronted with my station on the “death spiral,” an insurance industry connotation for someone with a pre-existing condition they did not want to serve. We watched as businesses and local governments — large and small —grappled with escalating health costs.

As a journalist, I’ve covered four separate chapters in health care reform. The first was Doc Bowen’s 1988 catastrophic health plan which President Reagan signed into law, and then as public opinion collapsed, Congress repealed. Five years later came First Lady Hillary Clinton’s complicated initiative that couldn’t muster support in Congress. It is fascinating that in its opposition to HillaryCare, the conservative Heritage Foundation created another option, and after gathering dust on the shelf for almost a decade, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney implemented what we now call “RomneyCare,” generally deemed a success. That became template for Obamacare, which Heritage opposes with historic vitriol.

Between the collapse of HillaryCare and the election of Barack Obama in 2008, little happened nationally to contain the escalating medical costs, or the inclusion of tens of millions of hardworking Americans — be they business owners or individuals — who could not access the system. In this time span — for six years between 2001 and 2007 — Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. All that was accomplished in this era was the greatest entitlement expansion since the Great Society — Medicare Prescription Plan D —essentially a component of President Bush 43’s reelection campaign. After a fiasco rollout, it has since been deemed a success.

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