‘Going universal’

‘GOING UNIVERSAL’…. The Washington Post reported yesterday that “health care is set to return to the national political stage in 2007, setting up partisan clashes in Congress that could end with rare vetoes from President Bush and help to define the 2008 presidential campaigns.” It’s about time.

Democrats have been trigger-shy about making serious changes to the system since 1994 and Republicans have largely satisfied with the status quo (Bush has argued that Americans already have too much health insurance). Regardless, this upcoming year will almost certainly see the debate begin anew, whether the GOP, the insurance companies, or the White House like it or not.

As is often the case, the public has been away ahead of their leaders on this. They can’t afford the status quo; they’d support increased government spending on the issue; and perhaps most importantly, Americans clearly want a universal health-care system.

With this in mind, the estimable Ezra Klein has a terrific op-ed in the LA Times today suggesting the arc of health care policy is long, but it tends towards universality. The key is shifting the debate towards rejecting an employer-based system.

Once a perk of employment, health insurance is now a necessity, and a structure that dumps such power, complexity and cost in the laps of employers is grotesquely unfair to both businesses and individuals. There’s no logic to an auto manufacturer running a multibillion-dollar health insurance plan on the side; it should stick to making cars. There’s no excuse for pricing the self-employed and entrepreneurial out of the market. And there’s no reason the owner of a three-employee start-up should have to go to bed with a heavy conscience because his coffee shop can’t pay for chemotherapy.

Quite right. Kevin recommended a while back that a key part of this debate is “hammer[ing] on the notion that it’s crazy to rely on employers as the main healthcare suppliers in America…. Why should you have to pay the price every time your HR department decides to switch to a cheaper health plan? Or lose coverage if you get laid off? Or be forced to keep a dead end job forever because it provides health coverage and you’re uninsurable anywhere else?”

When Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) unveiled a universal-care proposal two weeks ago, several corporate leaders took notice, and found a lot they could agree with. Can you blame them?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.