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Feb 12 / Jonathan

John Edwards’ health care plan

Both Paul Krugman (via Mark Thoma) and Dean Baker have nice things to say about the universal health care plan advanced by presidential candidate John Edwards.

It’s not the cleanest plan in the world (there remains a substantial role for private health insurance, for example), but on the other hand it has some features that set it apart from, say, Schwarzenegger’s proposal in California.

Krugman (edited by Thoma):

But Mr. Edwards goes two steps further. People who don’t get insurance from their employers would… purchase insurance through “Health Markets”: government-run bodies negotiating with insurance companies on the public’s behalf. …

Why is this such a good idea? …[M]arketing and underwriting — … screening out high-risk clients — are responsible for two-thirds of insurance companies’ overhead. With insurers selling to government-run Health Markets, not directly to individuals, most of these expenses should go away, making insurance considerably cheaper.

Better still, “Health Markets,” …, “…modeled after Medicare” … offer a crucial degree of competition. The public insurance plan would almost certainly be cheaper … — after all, Medicare has very low overhead. Private insurers would either have to match the public plan’s low premiums, or lose the competition. …

So this is a smart, serious proposal. It addresses both … the uninsured and the waste and inefficiency of our fragmented insurance system. And every candidate should be pressed to come up with something comparable.

Baker:

This is a serious plan. What I find most interesting (agreeing with Paul Krugman) is the proposal to create a public Medicare type system that any individual or employer can buy into. [Cheap political advice for the Edwards campaign: hype this item to the moon as a small business friendly proposal. Small businesses hate to deal with insurers who can raise their premiums by ridiculous amounts, especially if one of their workers develops a serious illness.] This sets up a head to head competition between the public system and private insurers. We should all benefit from this sort of competition.

Krugman again:

So far, all we have from Mr. Obama is inspiring rhetoric about universal care — that’s great, but how do we get there? And how do we know whether Mrs. Clinton, who says that she’s “not ready to be specific,” and that she wants to “build the consensus first,” will really be willing to take on this issue again?

To be fair, these are still early days. But America’s crumbling health care system is our most important domestic issue, and I think we have a right to know what those who would be president propose to do about it.

As Baker points out, “Representative Dennis Kucinich has put forward a universal Medicare plan, but the media have largely opted to ignore his candidacy.” Still, it’s eleven months until the first primary; we’ll see what happens. Not ignoring the fact that it’ll take 60 votes in the Senate to pass anything remotely resembling universal health care.

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