Monday, February 19, 2007

Krugman has broken me. Oh, and Edwards health plan

A colleague has been dropping off printouts of Paul Krugman's TimesSelect column to my desktop. I'm thereby reminded that there's nobody else in mainstream journalism willing and able to write fact based in-your-face disclosures of what Sauron (Bush/Cheney is the current incarnation) is up to. Krugman is Molly Ivins with less humor but a stronger platform and far more data. Now that Molly has died there's no-one else playing in this league. Alas, the NYT put Krugman behind their $50/year paywall. Conspiracy theorists figure this was a way to silence him, but I think the NYT made a bet-the-ranch decision that people like me would crack -- sooner or later.

Congratulations NYT, you've won. I've cracked. Here's $50. And so, here's Krugman on the Edwards health plan...
Edwards Gets It Right - New York Times

...People who don't get insurance from their employers wouldn't have to deal individually with insurance companies: they'd purchase insurance through ''Health Markets'': government-run bodies negotiating with insurance companies on the public's behalf. People would, in effect, be buying insurance from the government, with only the business of paying medical bills -- not the function of granting insurance in the first place -- outsourced to private insurers.

Why is this such a good idea? As the Edwards press release points out, marketing and underwriting -- the process of screening out high-risk clients -- are responsible for two-thirds of insurance companies' overhead. With insurers selling to government-run Health Markets, not directly to individuals, most of these expenses should go away, making insurance considerably cheaper.

Better still, ''Health Markets,'' the press release says, ''will offer a choice between private insurers and a public insurance plan modeled after Medicare.'' This would offer a crucial degree of competition. The public insurance plan would almost certainly be cheaper than anything the private sector offers right now -- after all, Medicare has very low overhead. Private insurers would either have to match the public plan's low premiums, or lose the competition.

And Mr. Edwards is O.K. with that. ''Over time,'' the press release says, ''the system may evolve toward a single-payer approach if individuals and businesses prefer the public plan.'"

So this is a smart, serious proposal. It addresses both the problem of the uninsured and the waste and inefficiency of our fragmented insurance system. And every candidate should be pressed to come up with something comparable...
This is a great example of why I need Krugman. I skimmed the Edwards plan and came away feeling a bit disappointed. On quick glance it seemed to miss the key issues. Krugman is smarter and looks deeper, and reveals that the Edwards plan is serious and meaningful. Put me down in the Edwards camp -- unless, as Robert Reich half-predicts -- Gore announces his candidacy at the Academy Awards. Then I'd be torn ...

(Now I get to see how much Krugman I can quote before the NYT sends me a nasty-gram. I think I can stay within Fair Use pretty readily.)

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