How To Tell When Health Care Reform Effort Fails

The consensus is building that comprehensive health care reform won’t happen this year — and probably not next year, either. This is not due to lack of effort or desire by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. As Dan Walters recently noted in the Sacramento Bee, “Left to their own devices [they] could probably reach a deal, but they are not free agents, and must … protect the interests of their major constituent groups.” As a result, Mr. Walters concludes chances of success are exceedingly slim. “It’s still possible that something grand and glorious could happen, but the odds against it are lopsided, reflecting the Capitol’s chronic inability to deal with complex, high-dollar issues that have numerous, often-contradictory ‘stakeholders,'” he writes.

I’m still convinced the political need to succeed will trump the centrifugal forces pulling negotiations apart. And as I’ve written previously, the positions of the Governor and the Speaker may be closer than they appear. So how will we know when failure is certain?

One sign will be if Governor Schwarzenegger and Speaker Nunez and their staffs start laying the groundwork for rationalizing failure. This will happen not at press conferences or hearings, but in interviews on other topics or in hallway conversations. For example, if in an interview about the impact of the recent fires you read Governor Schwarzenegger lamenting how much time and attention the fires have taken from dealing with other important issues, that’s a clue. If he adds that the prolonged budget battle didn’t help either, then it’s a really big clue.

When the Governor or Speaker start saying that caring for the children is the key purpose of health care reform, you’ll know there’ll be a bill expanding Healthy Families, but comprehensive reform is history.

When they comment that health care affordability is more appropriately addressed at the national level, you’ll know the end is near. When they complain about the “culture of special interests” you’ll know they’re looking for a towel to throw. And if they claim the state needs to immediately resolve the <fill in the blank> crisis before it destroys the state’s economy and life as we know it (even if it’s true) then planning for the final health care reform press conference is already underway.

We’re not hearing these signals yet. And hopefully we won’t.