As Washington Stalls, the States Show the Way
Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson both tried--and failed. So did Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Pushing for universal healthcare has just been too hard from the nation's highest bully pulpit. And for Congress, too. Technology advances and costs skyrocket; companies cut benefits and the number of uninsured swells--to 16 percent of the country, or 46 million Americans. It's a cold calculus.
But last week, Massachusetts, with its own half-million uninsured citizens, accomplished a singular feat. Lawmakers there--almost unanimously--voted to require nearly all residents to have insurance within the next three years. If companies don't offer it, they'll be fined. Insurers will get help to cover low-income families. And folks who can afford to pay for insurance but don't will get hit come tax time. It's an acknowledgement that healthcare is the shared responsibility of businesses, citizens, and the government. And it's a delicate compromise between liberal lions like Sen. Ted Kennedy and Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, who's eyeing a presidential bid when his term expires and says he'll sign the bill into law.
Leave it to the states these days to devise fresh ideas and produce actual change. Twenty have increased their minimum wage above the federal level. Nineteen considered plans to expand healthcare last year. Thirty-three have passed bills since 2003 to lower the price of prescription drugs. More than half have plans to mitigate climate change; 22 have specific requirements for renewable energy. And California could soon become the first state to limit the greenhouse gas emissions connected to global warming.
When the feds stall, leave it to the states. The result may be a hodgepodge. But maybe, just maybe, some of the best ideas will find their way to Washington.
This story appears in the April 17, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.