May 19, 2008 11:39AM

Medicare Advantage for All

The Church of Universal Coverage is whipping itself into a fervor over the Healthy Americans Act (S.334), a piece of legislation originally introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) that promises “affordable, guaranteed private health coverage that will make Americans healthier and can never be taken away.” Wyden has enlisted seven Republican senators as cosponsors, including such conservatives as Lamar Alexander (TN), Bob Bennett (UT), Mike Crapo (ID), and Judd Gregg (NH). 

That guarantee and that bipartisan support have generated opeds in major newspapers, a web site, journal articles, a preliminary scoring by the Congressional Budget Office, and much twittering among the left-wing blogocracy that this could be the vehicle for achieving universal coverage. There’s even a clever video that, come to think of it, supporters of market‐​based health care reforms could emulate in selling their own ideas.

What’s most interesting about all this is that so many conservative Republicans are acquiescing to a sweeping government takeover of the health care sector. The Healthy Americans Act wouldn’t go quite so far as to enact the Left’s long‐​sought dream of “Medicare for All,” where government would dictate the terms of coverage for all Americans, set the prices, and cut checks to the doctors. Rather, it would throw us all into a Medicare Advantage-like program, where government would dictate the terms of coverage, set the prices, and cut checks to … insurance companies. Call it “Medicare Advantage for All.” I have more to say about how the Healthy Americans Act would operate in this podcast

The conservative group Americans for Tax Reform claims the Act would constitute “the largest tax increase in history.” Former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey accuses the bill’s GOP supporters — in particular Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the ranking Republican on the Senate’s committee of jurisdiction — of “signing on with the government‐​run health‐​care Democrats.” 

So why would conservative Republicans sign on to such a bill? In particular, why Bennett, who has done an admirable job as a member of the Joint Economic Committee of trying to explain free‐​market concepts to his fellow senators? 

Given the general lack of health‐​policy literacy on the Right, it seems plausible that these conservatives just didn’t know what they were doing — or that their understanding of the legislation was sufficiently dim that any resistance could be overcome just by dangling the words “health savings accounts” in front of them.

A more troubling prospect is that these conservative senators and their staffs knew exactly what they were supporting, but made the calculation that their immediate political needs are more important than their fellow citizen’s health and freedom.