National health insurance (NHI) is discussed as a redistributive issue (that is, conflict over it is characterized by stable coalitions with important ideological differences). Discussion of policy alternatives has been intensified, but obscured, by a rhetoric which insists that the medical care system is in crisis. Both rhetoric and discussion point to three problem areas: cost, quality, and distribution of care. Three kinds of NHI proposals exist–minimal intervention measures (e.g., AMA's Medicredit proposal), major government action (e.g., Kennedy-Corman), and mixed strategies (e.g., CHIP). While these have different potentials for mitigating the problem areas discussed, none can provide complete solutions. Rather, the goal of NHI is to avert financial catastrophe for families and individuals. The emergence of Democratic majorities in Congress and a Democratic White House increases the chances that some NHI plan will be adopted. Political analysis suggests that, short of aggressive leadership committed to a comprehensive scheme, a “middle ground” solution will be the outcome.

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