HEALTHCARE TAKES CENTER STAGE (OR AT LEAST TRIES TO)…. Once in a while, it’s probably worth taking a moment to realize that if healthcare policy drove the presidential election, Barack Obama would win the electoral college, 538 to 0.

I mention this because there are some rather devastating items in the news today on the differences between the Obama and McCain healthcare plans, and what the competing approaches would mean to American workers and families.

* David Cutler, J. Bradford DeLong, and Ann Marie Marciarille have a tremendous item in the Wall Street Journal today, explaining the enormous impact healthcare has on the economy, including a direct effect on employment and wages. In some detail, the scholars explain, “Sen. Obama’s proposal will modernize our current system of employer- and government-provided health care, keeping what works well, and making the investments now that will lead to a more efficient medical system.” McCain’s proposal, they go on to explain, raises taxes on workers who receive health benefits, leads to more people without insurance, leaves people with pre-existing conditions behind, and does nothing to address rising healthcare costs.

* The New York Times’ Bob Herbert tackles a new study from scholars at Columbia, Harvard, Purdue, and Michigan, and explains that 20 million Americans who have employment-based health insurance would lose it under the McCain plan. The idea is to force people out of an employer-based system, leaving Americans to take meager tax credits out into the treacherous health insurance marketplace.

* TNR’s Jonathan Cohn takes a closer look at a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund, and explains that the McCain plan would also screw over an additional 25 million “underinsured” Americans.

* And Ezra Klein explains that once people are forced out of an employment-based system, they’re going to be much worse off taking their shiny new tax credit onto the individual market.

Read all of these pieces. The information will be on the final exam.

I’d just add, by the way, that Herbert notes that McCain’s radical approach, whether you like it or not, is “a monumental change in the way health coverage would be provided to scores of millions of Americans. Why not more attention?”

Because McCain and his cohorts have spent months trying to convince people that what really matters is lipstick, arugula, tire gauges, celebrities, and sex-ed for kindergarteners. If the campaign shifts to substance, he loses.

That, and healthcare policy is complicated. And news outlets hate complicated.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. 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.