A year ago today, President Obama signed the late U.S. Sen. John Chafee’s health care reform plan into law.
Sure, most people know the legislation as the Affordable Care Act – or, in less supportive circles, “Obamacare.” But when you get away from all the partisan bickering over the law, its actual nuts and bolts bare a striking similarity to the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993, which the Rhode Island Republican proposed during the heat of President Clinton’s fight over health policy.
Don’t believe me? Check out this Kaiser Health News chart comparing John Chafee bill’s with competing Republican and Democratic proposals from 2009. As Kaiser’s Maggie Mertens pointed out in a February 2010 interview with one of Chafee’s co-sponsors, former Sen. Dave Durenberger of Minnesota:
In fact, the key provisions in the Chafee bill may seem familiar, as they bear a strong resemblance to those in the current Democratic Senate bill, and now in President Barack Obama’s proposal. A mandate that individuals buy insurance, subsidies for the poor to buy insurance and the requirement that insurers offer a standard benefits package and refrain from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions were all in the 1993 GOP bill.
Durenberger says the reason many of these ideas have been shunned by today’s Republicans, even called unconstitutional by some, is that political times have changed. “The main thing that’s changed is the definition of a Republican,” he said.
The bill Chafee crafted wound up being Democrats’ last, best hope for passing something comprehensive by the summer of 1994. “I trust John Chafee,” Sen. Ted Kennedy told fellow Democrats even as the legislation’s prospects dimmed. In the end, though, his bill died along with every other effort to pass major health legislation during that Congress.
Chafee’s ideas didn’t die, though – his top health policy aide, Laurie Rubiner, went on to work for Hillary Clinton, helping shape the health plan that Clinton unveiled during her presidential campaign – which also influenced Obama’s.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, an authority on all things congressional, emphasized the link between Chafee’s proposal and Obama’s amid the long legislative battle of 2009-10. “It is basically a marriage between Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts-care, and even more the John Chafee-David Durenberger-Chuck Grassley-Bob Dole alternative of 1993-’94 built around managed competition,” he told PBS’s Charlie Rose. (Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar were also Chafee co-sponsors, at least initially.)