The time for universal health insurance coverage has come. Everybody seems to know that -- except for the Republicans, all too many of whom cling to traditional denunciations of universal coverage as socialism. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus has been holding talks with Republican lawmakers over the past week, and all signs point to opposition from the GOP.
But for the welfare of the country and their political party, Republicans should, instead, seize the lesson of Nixon's trip to China. With one brilliant foray, Nixon converted the massive threat posed by the isolated China into an asset, secured a favorable mention in history, and stripped the Democrats of a key issue. By embracing their own brand of universal health coverage, Republicans can do the same.
There's a massive constituency behind the policy. Buffeted by the recession and the threat of losing their employer-provided health insurance, the American people want universal coverage. Much of the US business community wants it too. CEOs rarely say "Know what I love about my job? Buying health care." The chore is so unrewarding -- corporate buyers have failed to create effective cost or quality improvements -- that many small business CEOs simply skip it. As a result, millions distort the efficient allocation of labor in our economy by opting for jobs in dying, big companies that offer health insurance, rather than productive ones in small companies that do not. Furthermore, our employer-based health insurance system forces American businesses to pack our massive health care costs -- about 70 percent greater as a share of GDP than other countries' -- into the cost of their exports, a huge albatross in a globally competitive economy.