Let them try Medicaid

One of the most sorry ongoing episodes in the extremely disappointing history of the U.S. Congress over the last few decades has been its inability to do much, if anything, constructive about the nation’s health-care quagmire.

Whatever the solution – whether it’s association health plans or a single-payer system – almost every proposal to alleviate the burden on employers has been met with the usual passive-aggressive response from lawmakers. In other words, they pretend to care, and even act as if they might actually do something, but the result is almost always the same – little or nothing.

Let’s forget for a moment about the best course toward solving what is a growing embarrassment for the wealthiest nation in the world. Instead, let’s consider another tack, one that was most recently raised by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

In a TV commercial and at various forums, Edwards has been saying that, if elected, he would call on members of Congress to pass his version of universal health care or do whatever he could to take away their health insurance if they didn’t comply.

The immediate response to Edwards’ threat was correct, at least on one level: There’s not much, if anything, any president can do to take away health insurance, or anything else, from Congress.

But Edwards and others who have called for a similar change are on to something. At the least, it’s unseemly in a nation with 47 million uninsured citizens – a number that is expected to grow even higher in the coming year – when its elected representatives and others in the nation’s leadership have a 24-karat health plan. At worst, you could argue that it’s because they have such excellent coverage – at taxpayers’ expense, and after a certain number of years the coverage is for life – they have no real interest or motivation in solving a problem that grows more daunting for the rest of us. It’s tempting to call it a Marie Antoinette Syndrome, but we’ll refrain.

Of course, finding a solution to the health-care mess is more complex than simply withholding health insurance from the powers-that-be in Washington. And it would be cruel to deny health coverage to them, just as it’s cruel to have so many other people going without health coverage – and just as it’s cruel to put so many businesses in an ever-tighter bind in their attempts to provide coverage to their employees.

So let’s not be cold-hearted here. In fact, let’s offer the D.C. powers-that-be a choice in federal insurance programs: Medicaid or Medicare. They can pick the one that’s best for them. And it might actually prompt them to finally do something about an increasingly unbearable situation – at least it’s unbearable to those of us who know what providing and having health coverage is like in the real world.

To get this done, a member of Congress would have to be involved. Any takers?