When Is a Crisis Not a Crisis?

By Clarence Page Copyright Chicago Tribune | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 2, 1994 | Go to article overview

When Is a Crisis Not a Crisis?


Clarence Page Copyright Chicago Tribune, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Well? Do we have a health-care crisis or don't we? In Washington these days, it depends on who's talking. "Our country has health-care problems, but no health-care crisis," said Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., in his nationally televised response to President Bill Clinton's State of the Union message.

No crisis? I'm sure Dole isn't having a health-care crisis. But what about the rest of us?

Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, D-N.Y., who is perturbed that Clinton isn't giving more attention to the "welfare crisis," said on national television that he didn't think we had a health crisis. But later he clarified that a bit, saying, "We do have a health-insurance crisis."

Small difference. At least Moynihan appears willing to recognize the estimated 38 million people, most of whom are working, who have no health coverage; the 58 million who Clinton says are without coverage at one time or another each year; and the 81 million Americans who have pre-existing conditions that require them to pay more or do without insurance.

Not to mention the countless other Americans who would like to change jobs but don't, for fear of losing health coverage. Or the estimated one-fourth of all welfare recipients who would take an entry-level job and break out of welfare dependency if it wouldn't cost them the insurance coverage they get from Medicaid.

Is that a crisis? My dictionary defines crisis as a "decisive or critical moment" or "state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending." Sounds about right to me.

Even employers who offer coverage found that spending on health-care benefits for their workers jumped 220 percent between 1980 and 1992, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Department of Commerce expects health-care spending to jump another 12.5 percent this year.

Yet, Republican leaders suddenly sound strikingly unwilling to acknowledge any of this. In talking points issued to its members, the Senate Republican Policy Committee advises, "The president insists on calling health care a crisis, but public opinion surveys indicate that the vast majority of Americans are satisfied with their own health care."

Never mind a Gallup/CNN/ USA Today poll in mid-January that shows 84 percent of the public says we do have a health-care crisis. …

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