Making reform personal for lawmakers

MAKING REFORM PERSONAL FOR LAWMAKERS…. It’s pretty common to see Republican lawmakers appear on Fox News and repeat a key talking point — if Democratic health care reform proposals are so great, why are members of Congress exempt from the new rules?

The claim is apparently part of a right-wing email chain, and it’s been debunked. But Time‘s Joe Klein raised a related point yesterday that turns the talking point on its head.

My favorite provision requires that all members of Congress give up their federally-funded health care benefits and join the health care exchanges that will be set up by this bill. This is brilliant politics, addressing the tide of populist anger and fears of incipient socialism. But it also makes an important substantive point.

The future of health care reform in this country will depend on how effectively the exchanges — health insurance super-stores — are working. If members of Congress have to participate in this system, you can bet they’ll insist on an array of choices, similar to the system they currently use, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan.

In all candor, Klein’s item is the first I’ve heard of this. If he’s right, this strikes me as both good policy and good politics.

The idea of requiring lawmakers to join exchanges is good policy because it all but guarantees they’ll make sure consumers have good options to choose from. After all, they’ll want those options for themselves.

And it’s obviously good politics because it demonstrates confidence in a reformed system, and signals to the public that members of Congress are willing to put their coverage where their votes are.

There might even be a campaign upside — it’s the kind of thing that lends itself well to attack ads. “Sen. Schmoe voted against a reform plan that would have forced members of Congress to have the same health care choices as millions of regular Americans. Does Sen. Schmoe think he’s too important to get the same options as the rest of us? Call Sen. Schmoe and tell him….”

If Klein’s wrong, and this isn’t in the bill, here’s hoping some Dem sees fit to push the measure in an amendment.

Update: Interesting background on how this provision got into the bill.