A little-discussed provision of the Affordable Health Care Act (i.e., "Obamacare") provides an extraordinary opening for Democratic gubernatorial and state legislative candidates to deliver a simple message that will resonate with voters and sweep them into office. Yes, this year.
Moreover, they will be loved for the enemies they make -- the health insurance industry.
In a nutshell, this is it: Although a federal 'public option' failed to make it into the law, states were granted the power to generate their own public option.
Let us recall that the public option was insanely popular. Further evidence of that popularity emerged recently when it was "discovered" that 30% of those who said they "do not like" the healthcare reform were disappointed that it did not go further.
That was the federal public option, attacked as a 'federal takeover', nonsense that the populace seemed to shrug off. After all, Medicare was a federal takeover of care for the elderly and that has worked out pretty well for them. Even Tea Partier Marco Rubio in Florida is running an ad claiming that his opponents took money from Medicare -- and he, Rubio, would restore it! How's that for right wing piety! [And, if you believe it, I have a war in Iraq to sell you].
But, the state public option alternative even avoids the federal takeover nonsense.
If I were running anywhere this year, for governor or state legislature, I would propose that my state enact a public option for itself. Its costs would be negligible, as the federal government provides the necessary subsidies to enable those who cannot afford it to buy it, whether it is from a private insurer or the state. The state would establish it as "just another" insurance option, with individuals paying premiums -- only the premiums would likely be lower as the advertising, administration and salaries would all be lower. It would be run not at a loss, but at slightly above break-even. If, as is likely, the insurance companies lowered their premiums to be competitive, the premiums would be the same as the private sector, but lower than they would have been without the competition of the state public option.
Negligible cost to state taxpayers. Lower EVERYONE's rates in the state. Make the state more competitive for businesses to grow jobs because the state public option would keep health insurance premiums as low as possible.
Too good to be true? Well, almost. The one flaw is that this program could not kick in until 2014 according to current law. That is not so bad, as the elections will be held in November 2010, the laws would be passed and signed in 2011. It would take about a year to get the program established, so the earliest it could be implemented would be 2012 anyhow.
What pressure do you think governors, legislatures and the people of each state would bring upon Members of Congress to accelerate the implementation date in the federal law? That would be an inexorable force. Moreover, even if it would only take effect in 2014, is it not better to get it enacted, and be ready for it?
And, what about the politics in 2010? Democrats ought to be able to take this simple message, based upon an entire year of discussing it at the national level, and make it resonate with voters in their states, who already supported the national public option by large majorities anyhow. The state public option should be even more wildly popular.
And the Republicans? What can they do? Twenty attorneys-general have filed specious lawsuits to overturn health care reform. To be a Republican candidate, you must oppose it. So, they are going to deny the citizens of their states a very low cost insurance plan that will lower EVERYONE's premiums? And, allow other states to become a more attractive environment for growing businesses...and jobs?
And, stand forthrightly with the...insurance companies?
I would take that contest in any state, any day of any week.
And, what about those Republican candidates and members of Congress who voted against this bill in the first place, and now want to repeal it? They will have to conduct their campaigns in the face of this "state" onslaught.
If there is anything we should have learned this year, it is that election chances can turn around on a dime. Nearly all the Tea Party victories came in the last week or two, closing enormous gaps with the anointed party candidates.
So, Democratic Governors' Association, what are you waiting for?