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Bruce Maiman: Here’s a Republican’s idea about health care reform that just might work

We may have gone through the looking glass on the health care debate.

You know the debate I mean? A controversial bill Congress crafted and narrowly passed – which never happens – that the president signed into law that was challenged in court until certain savants in magic robes decided it wasn’t unconstitutional? That Republicans promised to repeal last November, except they lost the presidency, Senate and House by 5million, 7million and 1.7million votes, respectively?

The one where, despite that loss, power brokers of particular persuasion, just weeks later, laid out plans to repeal/defund/delay by holding first the budget – and then the debt ceiling – hostage, while even Fox News polls today overwhelmingly blame Republicans far more than Democrats for the current government shutdown?

Yeah, that debate.

Well, in a tweet complete with clip art of Rodin’s Thinker, California congressman Darrell Issa, R-Vista, “ponders,” a way to replace Obamacare, writing, “Give all Americans access to the same affordable, high-quality health coverage as members of Congress.”

That’d be the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which Issa describes as “high-quality, affordable health care benefits through this free market, consumer based system.”

So, after nearly four years of fuss, with reform now giving people access to affordable health care, Issa is suggesting we replace that with a plan that gives people access to affordable health care?

Ah, you say, why didn’t Darrell propose this back in 2009 when President Barack Obama and the Democrats were working on the bill that became the Affordable Care Act? Were too many Republicans too busy making “one-term president” threats, whining, screaming and promising, “This will be Obama’s Waterloo.”

How’s that been workin’ out for ya?

Actually, Issa did author something like this back then – HR3438 – a point he made on Bill Maher’s HBO program, “Real Time,” in August2009.

“Every one of our choices are private programs that the government simply pays 70percent of,” Issa said. “The federal workforce is not somehow magically different than the private workforce … and we have no charge for preexisting illnesses, no premium for age.” By providing it for all, Issa said, “Americans get a better deal.”

As the common television trope goes, “Hey, that just might be crazy enough to work!”

But wait a minute. If we open this up to everyone, how do we get everyone to buy in so that insurance pools can stay big enough to keep premiums low enough to be affordable? Maybe we should require people buy some kind of insurance. I know, how about a mandate? Nah. That’s only for cars.

What about those too poor to afford even the most affordable plans? Should we give them subsidies to help out? Nah, let ’em use the emergency room. Who cares if that’s our most expensive form of health care? Most expensive, of course, to those with insurance who see their premiums rise to pay for treatment of those who don’t have coverage. Maybe we should require those people to buy health insurance.


What about those wanting to keep the coverage they already have? We should allow that, right? Or should the federal employee program replace every other insurance plan in America? Sounds a little like some sort of single-payer system.

Egad, isn’t that socialism? And Issa calls himself a Republican?

Also, how will people get all this crucial information? Should we set up websites where those who need insurance can comparison-shop, y’know, like a virtual marketplace? Maybe we could call these websites “exchanges”! Whaddya think, Darrell?

Three years ago, before the health care law became a health care law conservatives are still trying to “unlaw,” I interviewed some folks about health insurance. One fellow said, “Man, I wish we had the coverage those jerks in Congress get.” Everyone else nodded in agreement.

“No, you shouldn’t wish for that,” I replied. “What you should wish for is that they have to get the same coverage we get. If they had to fend for it the way we do, they’d fix this country’s health care system overnight.”

That’s usually half the problem with Congresscritters: The people supposedly representing us don’t live like us at all.

But hold on! Under the Affordable Care Act, House and Senate members will have to get their insurance through the ACA’s marketplace starting next year. Ah, maybe that’s what all the ruckus is about. Them lawmakers don’t wanna live like us po’ folk!

Perhaps Issa can find a moment to drop all that faux-scandalation on his plate and, with Ted Cruz-like zeal, push for his idea via the normal lawmaking processes of a democratically elected Congress. I mean, it is an idea, and it’s from a Republican, and it just might be crazy enough to work. Just don’t call it Obamacare.