A Sleeper Issue Wakes Up: Has the Time for Health Care Reform Finally Come?

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Health care was an issue you didn’t hear much about during the campaign last year. But with medical costs soaring and the number of uninsured growing, it remains near the top of voters’ concerns, and once again, it appears that the states may have to step in where Washington refuses to.

The Republican Governor of the biggest state in the country is picking up where Hillary Clinton left off. Arnold Schwarzenegger has unveiled a breathtakingly ambitious health care plan that would extend coverage to nearly all of California’s 6.5 million uninsured. It includes the most controversial element of Hillarycare: an “employer mandate,” requiring that every business that has 10 or more employees cover them. Another provision–similar to the plan that Massachusetts passed last year–requires every individual to carry insurance, with subsidies for the 1.2 million poor people who do not qualify for coverage under Medi-Cal. The Governor says that he can save $10 billion a year by bringing health care costs under control.

Bill Clinton’s effort to fix the health care problem nearly destroyed his presidency, and since then, the issue has been so toxic in Washington that no one was willing to even think about a big fix. What Schwarzenegger has going for him now that Hillary didn’t in 1994 is that the problem has gotten much worse, and health care costs are strangling corporations. One telling indicator: Good early buzz from business.

Schwarzengger, by the way, had to present his plan by video conference, because he’s experiencing his own health care crisis: a broken right leg, which he suffered while skiing last month. –Karen Tumulty