Hillary Clinton's Fight for Universal Health Care

Why the Former First Lady's Plan Went Down in Flames

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes a few remarks at FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Dinner
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Hillary Clinton is perhaps most remembered during her tenure as the first lady of the United States in the mid-1990s for her unsuccessful push for universal health care, a controversial proposal seen at the time as a radical overhaul of the way Americans received coverage that drew strong opposition from both the drug and health insurance industries. The cornerstone of the plan was a mandate on employers to provide health insurance for all of their employees.

Later in her political career, Clinton supported a mandate on Americans - not businesses - to purchase health insurance for themselves as part of a broad proposal to rein in costs and boost value and quality in the nation's network of private health insurers. Clinton unveiled her newer proposals in her American Health Choices Plan during the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Said Clinton in September 2007:

"My plan covers all Americans and improves health care by lowering costs and improving quality. If you're one of the tens of millions of Americans without coverage or if you don't like the coverage you have, you will have a choice of plans to pick from and you'll get tax credits to help pay for it. If you like the plan you have, you can keep it. It's a plan that works for America's families and America's businesses, while preserving consumer choices."

Hillary Clinton and Universal Health Care

Hillary Clinton was the first lady to President Bill Clinton in 1993 when he appointed her to chair the President's Task Force on National Health Care Reform. The president had warned in his inaugural address that the administration would face staunch opposition from "powerful lobbies and special interests" who would attempt to derail its efforts to provide coverage for all Americans, and he was right.

Congressional Republicans opposed the plan, the public saw it as too complex and bureaucratic, but perhaps the kiss of death was the tremendous amount of criticism it received from health insurance industry, which went too far as to produce a multimillion-dollar television campaign against the proposal.

The Clinton health care overhaul billed as the centerpiece of Bill Clinton's presidency and a path to ensuring some 37 million Americans who had no coverage, died for lack of support in Congress in what was considered a major defeat for the administration and political setback for Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton Revises Health Care Proposals

Clinton emerged with a new set of plans to ensure every American during the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination. She said she had learned from her mistakes in 1993 and 1994 when the Clinton administration's proposals were too complicated, and that she had the scars to show for it.

Clinton portrayed her new American Health Choices Plan as being one modeled after the health care program through which members of Congress are covered. "The new array of choices offered in the menu will provide benefits at least as good as the typical plan offered to members of Congress, which includes mental health parity and usually dental coverage," Clinton said in 2007.

Hillary Clinton's plan would have required Americans to purchase health insurance and required insurers to cover everyone regardless of whether they had preconditions. It would have provided tax credits to Americans who couldn't afford to purchase health care and paid for them by rolling back the so-called Bush tax cuts on those earning more than $250,000 a year. Clinton said at the time her plan would have resulted in a "net tax cut for American taxpayers."