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Lessons of and for Presidential Health Care Leadership David Blumenthal MD, MPP Institute for Health Policy Massachusetts General Hospital January 30,

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Presentation on theme: "Lessons of and for Presidential Health Care Leadership David Blumenthal MD, MPP Institute for Health Policy Massachusetts General Hospital January 30,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Lessons of and for Presidential Health Care Leadership David Blumenthal MD, MPP Institute for Health Policy Massachusetts General Hospital January 30, 2009

2 Agenda Background Lessons Conclusions

3 Background Book on health care policy making in the White House from FDR through GWB. Focused on one major issue/decision/thrust relating to coverage/cost/system reform from each Presidency. Co-author James Morone, Professor of Political Science, Brown University.

4 Background (cont) The Heart of Power: Health Politics in the Oval Office. University of California Press, June, 2009.

5 Some uber lessons: Health care is a profoundly personal presidential issue. Risks are high, prospects of success often bleak. Personal and family experience with illness can significantly affect presidential willingness to push health care issues. Health care cannot be avoided. Even Presidents with no particular inclination to deal with health policy end up spending time and political capital on health issues. Carter, GHWB. This can only be expected to grow over time. Every president needs a health care policy and a health care strategy.

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8 Tactical lessons: Campaign on it. Do it early. Use the transition. Manage the economics (and the economists). Go public. Delegate. Manage the Congress

9 Campaign Political legitimacy. Public support. Hold Presidential feet to the fire when going gets tough. Carter GWB

10 Do it early! LBJ in February, 1965 (from recollections of Wilbur Cohen): Now look. Ive just been reelected by the overwhelming majority. And I just want to tell you that every day while Im in office, Im going to lose votes. Im going to alienate somebody. And then he took about twenty minutes and traced the history of other Presidents.. And he says, The President begins to lose power fast once he has been reelected.. Its going to be something.... Weve got to get this legislation fast. Youve got to get it during my honeymoon.

11 More of LBJ on speed: Talking with Wilbur Mills, Speaker McCormack, and Majority Leader Albert after Ways and Means reports Medicare/Medicaid, March, 1965: F or God sakes, dont let dead cats stand on your porch. Mr. Rayburn used to say: they stunk and they stunk and they stunk. When you get one [of your bills] out of your committee, you call that son of a bitch up before they [the opposition] can get their letters written.

12 Use the Transition: To do it early, you need to be ready. That means using the transition. Not having a strategy on inauguration day severely reduces chances of success for a President serious about significant health care change (exception, Medicare expansion). Does health care presidency really begin in July of election year? Carter and Clinton examples of transition disasters. LBJ and GWB may be examples of success.

13 Manage economics: Virtually every coverage expansion sends chills up the spine of economists in Treasury, OMB, NEC, CBO Unbroken track record of opposition, with very few exceptions. Could LBJ have passed Medicare in the CBO era? Nixon, Reagan eventually overrode their objections. Clinton inserted premium caps to placate CBO (though his own economists never bought it) Did Robert Byrd balk at doing Clinton health reform as part of reconciliation in part because administration economists were whispering in his ear? Every President who wants to expand coverage will have to be prepared to go over or around their own economic advisers, not just deal with CBO.

14 Go Public: Anything meaningful will encounter strong political opposition. Problem for health care change has usually been lack of support. This is why Medicare is different. Health care is the acid test of domestic presidential leadership: can he/she create a constituency for change? One of Clintons most significant failures.

15 Delegate details and credit: LBJ to Wilbur Mills June, 1964: The single most important popular thing is the bill you are working with. If Mills reported out a health bill, said Johnson, we would all applaud you. Over and over, he repeated, I am not trying to go into details.

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17 Delegate (cont): GWB: Decision in July 2001, reaffirmed June, 2003, to issue principles concerning Medicare Modernization Act, not detailed legislation. Counter-examples: Carter Clinton.

18 Manage the Congress: Single party control may be necessary, though not sufficient, to achieve meaningful health care change. LBJ 1965. GWB 2003. But even then, Presidents need superb legislative skills, excellent staffs and preferably both. Will there ever be another LBJ? Do we need one?

19 Medicare exceptionalism: The initial enactment of Medicare and Medicaid fits the rules. But subsequent expansions have not. Reagan catastrophic (last year in office). GWB MMA (third year in office). Why: The elderly are a unique constituency. And in any case, GWB acted quickly when he won back the Senate in November, 2002.

20 Conclusions: Every President will have to deal with health care. But to lead for change will require consummate presidential skill and a great deal of luck. History provides some guidance. But there is no cookbook for leadership, political will and political genius.


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