Last week he was an environmentalist. Now he's a health care reformer. Who knows what rewriting of
reality is yet to come?
George W. Bush's first speech on
health care was delivered in Cleveland on Tuesday.
"We will promote individual
choice," he said. "We will rely on
private insurance. But make no mistake: In my administration, low-income Americans will have access to
high-quality health care."
That very morning The Times was
out with a page-one article by Adam
Clymer that began as follows:
"Texas has had one of the nation's
worst public health records for decades. More than a quarter of its
residents have no health insurance.
The Mexican border is a hotbed of
contagion. The state ranks near the
top in the nation in rates of AIDS,
diabetes, tuberculosis and teenage
pregnancy, and near the bottom in
immunizations, mammograms and
access to physicians.
"But since George W. Bush became
governor in 1995, he has not made
health a priority, his aides acknowledge. He has never made a speech on
the subject, his press office says. His
administration opposed a patients'
bill of rights in 1995 before grudgingly
accepting one in 1997, and fought unsuccessfully to limit access to the new
federal Children's Health Insurance
Program in 1999."
The rest of Mr. Clymer's article
was just as devastating. Governor
Bush may be lip-synching the language of reform as he seeks to impress independent and Democratic
voters, but the reality in Texas is
tragic. According to a report by the
state comptroller's office in 1998,
"Health conditions in the Texas-Mexico border are among the worst
in the U.S., so distressful that reports
on health conditions suggest a remote country in need of medical missionaries, not a part of Texas."
Texas has been notoriously backward when it comes to health care.
But if George W. Bush was at all
concerned about that, he didn't let on.
His choice for state health commissioner, Dr. William R. Archer III,
would likely make a real health care
reformer ill. Example: Texas may
be at the bottom of the national heap
in terms of health insurance coverage, but that's no big deal to Dr.
Mr. Clymer wrote: "Almost alone
among health experts in Texas, Dr.
Archer minimizes the importance of
the low rate of health insurance, a
protection that two-fifths of the
state's poor children lack. In an interview, he said he thought that while
'eventually we have to insure everybody,' he believed the uninsured
were still getting care."
Well, sure. Some do. They get sick
and show up at hospital emergency
rooms. Of course, some wait too long.
Dr. Archer's easy acceptance of
this wretched method of delivering
health care mirrors that of Governor
Bush. Referring to a hypothetical
uninsured mother of two, the governor said in a television interview last
month: "She's got accessibility, in
my state at least, to health care in
emergency rooms and clinics."
He admitted that wasn't the "most
affordable" or "the smartest way to
run a health system." But it was, you
Answering a question about health
care on a Fox News program in
January, the governor said: "You go
to emergency rooms in my state. . . .
They're full of people. They're full of
people. There's access."
Mr. Bush said affordable insurance was his health care goal, his
"mission," but he saw the crowded
emergency rooms in Texas as proof
that his constituents already had access to health care.
This is not good. The governor
appears to be clueless about health
care, both unaware and unconcerned.
In February, during a campaign
appearance in Florida, Mr. Bush was
questioned by a woman who wanted
to know what he might do about the
fact that her health insurance did not
fully cover the needs of her son, who
had a chronic, life-threatening illness.
According to The Times's Frank
Bruni, Mr. Bush seemed "stumped"
by the query. "He sang the praises of
medical savings accounts," wrote
Mr. Bruni, "then acknowledged that
it was too late for the woman to start
one and that he really had no specific
remedy for her."
Mr. Bush told the woman: "I'm
sorry. I wish I could wave a wand."
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company