Professor who served on Clinton administration discusses politics of health care

Allyson Waller

William Sage, a UT law and Dell Medical School professor who served on former President Bill Clinton’s health care task force, explained fiscal policy’s influence on health care at a discussion Tuesday evening hosted by the Texas Political Union.

Texas Political Union hosted Sage, who reflected on his time working for the Clinton administration in 1993, the same year Clinton proposed a universal health care package to Congress that ultimately did not live up to the administration’s expectations. Sage said today’s discussion on health care is not far off from discussions that occurred in the 1990s, when it was difficult for conversations about health care to go beyond debates about insurance and subsidies. 

“We’ve been stuck in a fiscalized version of health policy since the 1970s oil shocks — that sort of first recessionary recognition that perhaps America wouldn’t always be the richest in every circumstance,” Sage said. 

Monitoring bodies such as the federal Congressional Budget Office play a significant role in health care policy, Sage said. According to the CBO’s website, the purpose of the office is to project federal health spending and analyze health care policy proposals. 

In September, Democratic legislators criticized Republicans for attempting to repeal Obamacare without CBO analysis of the GOP health care bill. Sage said the GOP’s health care plans have been easy to attack since they placed a tax break on wealthy Americans.

“What you are seeing in health care today and what we saw front and center in 1993 (and) 1994, though very few people actually noticed it at the time, was the dominance of fiscal policy and congressional budgetary restrictions,” Sage said.

Samantha Taussig, applied movement science sophomore, said Sage’s commentary provided greater context for a complex topic in contemporary America. 

“This topic in general is really confusing,” Taussig said. “There’s a lot of different opinions, (but) I think his insight is real interesting.” 

For government freshman Erick Razo, Sage’s discussion struck a chord.  

“People focus on the ideological aspects of the Affordable Care Act, what’s good and what’s bad, but what people focus on in politics is the budgetary restrictions that are always present whenever they’re trying to back any health care policy,” Razo said. “That’s the thing that struck me the most. That restriction, I knew it was there, but I didn’t know it was that strong.”