UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE….Ron Brownstein’s column in the LA Times today says that Dick Gephardt will unveil a proposal on Wednesday for (almost) universal health care. Here’s how it would work:

Today, employers who provide health insurance can deduct the cost of their premiums from their federal taxes. That deduction covers about 30% of their premium costs.

Gephardt would double that: He’s planning to propose a tax credit that would reimburse employers for 60% of their health insurance premiums.

….Firms that don’t insure their workers today would get an even better deal. They would have to offer insurance, but they would not be required to contribute any of their own money.

….To capture the rest, he would let people 55 and older buy into Medicare, allow working-poor parents into the joint state-federal program that provides health care for their children and offer subsidies for unemployed workers to buy coverage.

I had two immediate thoughts about this:

  • It’s suicide. It’ll be Harry and Louise all over.

  • It’s too complex. It’ll be like Al Gore’s tax plan in the 2000 election.

But it turns out that the entire proposal is….interesting. It is complex, but it accomplishes several things: (a) it keeps healthcare private, so doctors and insurers won’t be opposed, (b) it offers a break to current businesses, so they’ll be in favor, and (c) it doesn’t cost small businesses anything, so they probably won’t do anything more than grumble about the paperwork.

It would cost a lot of money, of course, but there’s no way around that, and Bush’s tax cuts could conceivably help here. Gephardt can position his plan as “healthcare vs. a big tax cut (for the rich),” and foregoing a tax cut might very well sound more palatable than a big new spending program, especially since there’s a lot of popular skepticism about the tax cut already.

I’m not sure what I think about all this, but it’s definitely an intriguing proposal. I’m sure the other candidates will all be watching closely to see how it goes over.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell wrote about this last week and included a link to a rather remarkable rant by Rush Limbaugh on the subject. It turns out that Rush isn’t just opposed to Gephardt’s plan, he actually thinks it’s fascist. And here I thought it was only radical 60s lefties who accused everyone in sight of incipient fascism….