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Liberals Hope to Link Financial Crisis to Health Care Debate

Who knew, eight years ago, that compassionate conservatism would include the partial nationalization of the banking industry?

It happened today, and some supporters of Sen. Barack Obama hope the new wave of broader federal regulation will spill over into the health-care debate.

In an ad in today’s New York Times, the Institute for America’s Future, a liberal watchdog group, warns that Sen. John McCain’s health-care plan might do for patients what deregulation of the finance industry has done for homeowners and investors.

“Will we let conservatives do to health care what they did to banking?” the ad’s headline asks.

The reason for the concern?

McCain’s plan deregulates the private insurance industry by allowing the purchase of plans across state lines. Consumers could sidestep some state laws mandating more comprehensive — and more expensive — coverage. But that feature would also undermine state efforts to implement the mandates so the risk can be better spread among sick and healthy residents.

McCain’s health plan also permits insurers to continue the practice of refusing coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions.

And McCain’s plan calls for eliminating the income-tax exclusion that currently benefits those receiving employer-sponsored health coverage. Instead, it would offer a flat tax credit ($2,500 for single filers and $5,000 for families) for those who get insurance through their employers or buy plans on their own. The Lewin Group, a non-partisan consulting firm, estimated that this would reduce employer-sponsored coverage by 9.4 million people.

The result, according to Institute for America’s Future, would be that the health care of Americans — 46 million of whom are currently uninsured — would be placed “at the mercy of the same profit-driven companies that got us into this mess.”

McCain hasn’t done himself any favors on this front.

Writing for the September/October issue of Contingencies magazine, the GOP presidential hopeful pitches his health-reform plan by lauding the benefits of deregulating the finance industry.

“Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation,” he wrote.

As we reported earlier this week, health care reform will be tough in any environment.

But McCain’s strategy seems particularly unfit for this anxious new world.

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