HILLARY’S HEALTHCARE PLAN….Ezra Klein looks at Hillary Clinton’s new plan for universal healthcare and finds himself impressed:

The Clinton plan opens the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program to everybody, ensuring that anyone can access the same menu of regulated private options that federal employees get.

The plan also creates a new public option, modeled off (but distinct from) Medicare. That’s a big deal: The public insurer offers full coverage and is open to all Americans without restriction. Public insurance is what I feared her plan would avoid, and instead, she embraced it wholeheartedly.

[Various other good points, including an individual mandate, community rating for insurance companies, subsidies for low-income consumers, and limitations on employer tax deductions for healthcare.]

So the policy is very, very sound. The rhetoric is interesting too, being entirely about “choice.” It’s called the “American Health Choices Plan.” The first section, on the opening of FEHBP and the creation of a new public insurer, is titled, “Providing a Choice of Insurance Plans.” The first bullet point assures readers that every American will be able to keep their current coverage if they so desire. Etc, etc.

I’m not a big fan of individual mandates and private insurance companies, but in the spirit of Atrios’s advice to “stop wanking,” I also understand that my preferences just aren’t on the table right now. And I have to say that I agree with Ezra: although the three leading Democratic presidential candidates have proposed healthcare plans that are similar in a lot of ways, Hillary’s strikes me as not just substantively as good as any of them (and better in some ways), but also the politically savviest and most practical of the lot. Given her experience in 1994 (she knows what won’t work) combined with the legislative canniness she seems to have developed in the Senate (she know what will work), that’s not too surprising.

In any case, it’s a good plan. Edwards and Obama are going to have a very hard time making criticisms that stick. Obama, in particular, suffers because his plan is, if anything, a bit less ambitious than Hillary’s even though he’s supposed to be the candidate with fresh new ideas. For now, anyway, I think Hillary has outflanked him.

Outflanked him on healthcare, anyway. Now, about the war in Iraq…..

POSTSCRIPT: I should add that I don’t actually agree with Atrios’s advice to “stop wanking.” Policy discussions are useful regardless of whether they have any short-term prospect of being implemented, and pundits and analysts absolutely should bitch and complain about shortcomings even in policies they favor. Maybe especially in policies they favor. Still, sometimes you have to choose between options on the table, and that’s where we are with healthcare right now. On that score, Hillary’s plan looks pretty good.

UPDATE: Maggie Mahar has more details on HRC’s plan here.

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