Context for the Baucus Plan


I hope that my bona fides as a Max Baucus detractor are not seriously in doubt. And as a Max Baucus detractor, I certainly have my criticisms of the plan he put out. A plan that’s relatively stingy to working Americans would be more forgivable were it not also so friendly to industry. Deficit concerns would be easier to take seriously if not for Baucus’ willingness to cast such worries aside in order to pass conservative bills in the past. It’s not a flawless piece of legislation and its flaws aren’t in there for good reason.

That said, I think a lot of the blog response to this proposal is overblown. There’s just no reason to think that the system envisioned by Baucus would be either a political or a substantive disaster. Instead, it would create something comparable to the situation that currently prevails in Switzerland or Massachusetts. Is that great? No, it’s not. Health care in Massachusetts is substantial worse than health care in any number of foreign countries. That said, the Massachusetts health care system is better than the health care system that exists in any other American state. Similarly, if it were up to me Switzerland is about the last country I would choose to emulate. In terms of excessive costs—spending that lines the pockets of medical providers with little real medical benefit—it’s worse that everyone except . . . the United States of America.

And there’s the rub. The status quo in the United States is really bad. Baucus’ plan would make it better. There are people right now who could use health insurance, but they’re too poor. Baucus would make many of them eligible for Medicaid and more of them eligible for subsidies to let them afford private insurance. Hopefully something better than this plan can be worked out between the merger of the Finance bill and the HELP bill and the conference committee and all the rest. But even in its meager Baucusish form, the health reform currently on the table would be the biggest piece of progressive social policy in decades.