Policy

Former GOP Senator Durenberger blasts Republicans on health care law

David Durenberger joked Wednesday he could no longer run for office because there’s no such thing as an “apolitical” political party. That seems fitting because the former U.S. Senator from Minnesota is the rarest of political birds: a Republican that staunchly supports the newly passed health care reform law. Or at least he used to […]

David Durenberger joked Wednesday he could no longer run for office because there’s no such thing as an “apolitical” political party. That seems fitting because the former U.S. Senator from Minnesota is the rarest of political birds: a Republican that staunchly supports the newly passed health care reform law.

Or at least he used to be a Republican. To be honest, it’s tough to tell these days. Former Massachusetts Governor and presumable GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney thinks the bill stinks, even though it looks an awful lot like the law he championed in the Bay State. And of course, not a single Republican in Congress voted for the bill.

That wasn’t the case in 1994 when President Bill Clinton and then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton unsuccessfully pushed for a universal health care bill. Though Durenberger, then chair of a special health care subcommittee for the Senate Finance Committee, was no big fan of the Clinton plan, he said Republicans crafted a meaningful alternative that included an individual mandate, Medicare payment reform and universal coverage–things you might find in the current law.

Unfortunately, today’s Republicans are a different breed, Durenberger told a lunchtime audience at the University of Minnesota’s annual Design of Medical Devices conference. It’s not that Republicans have bad ideas, they just don’t have any ideas, he suggested.

“Self-serving partisanship is the reason why people are either confused or angry” about the health care bill, Durenberger said.

“The bill will succeed or fail on its own,” he later said. “Republicans could win [the fall] elections with no message of what they want to do other than go back to the old system.”

Since he left the Senate in 1995 under a storm of controversy, Durenberger has become a bit of a health care expert. In addition to serving as Chairman of Citizens For Long Term Care, Durenberger is also the Senior Health Policy Fellow at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and chair of the school’s  joint effort with the U to create the National Institute of Health Policy. He authored Prescription for Change, a book on health care reform through consumer choice.

Durenberger likes many things in the health care law–in fact, I can’t recall him saying one bad thing about it. One point that particularly caught my eye was his take on whether America can afford the law, the intellectual heart of the Republican opposition.

Echoing President Obama’s arguments, Durenberger says pitting universal coverage against affordability is a false choice.

“Universal coverage is a necessary prerequisite for getting costs under control,” he said. “We need to create the demand for better, faster, health care,” which in turn generates new jobs and life science companies.

Creating demand? Boy, I could hear the supply siders choking on their lasagna.

Still, don’t mistake Durenberger for a stereotypical Democrat. He blames medical unions like the American Medical Association for blocking vital reforms, the same way teacher unions block meaningful education reform.

In fact, Durenberger believes education and health care have a lot in common: both eat up tons of money with little value or quality. Both face cutbacks in government funding. Both industries must figure out how to do more with a lot less.

He wasn’t too kind on medical device companies either, an industry he says focuses more on maximizing third-party payments than promoting technology based on medical necessity and appropriateness.

“We must end the medical arms race,” Durenberger said.