Ron Wyden's Cunning Plan

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 3 2010 3:30 PM

Ron Wyden's Cunning Plan

The people who think Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is bailing on "Obamacare" are revealing something important: They didn't pay enough attention to the health care debate. In asking for a waiver so that Oregon doesn't have to participate in the federal mandate for health insurance, Wyden is just springing the trap on the provision he himself added to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which allows states to opt out of the mandate and develop their own comprehensive plans. It's based on this provision from his own legislation -- which, you'll recall, some Republicans briefly floated as a compromise as Obamacare founding.

(b) Eligibility Requirements- A State shall be eligible to receive a waiver under this section if--

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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(1)the State approves a plan to provide health care coverage to itsresidents that is at least as comprehensive as the coverage requiredunder a HAPI plan; and

(2)the State submits to the Secretary an application at such time, in suchmanner, and containing such information as the Secretary may require,including a comprehensive description of the State legislation or planfor implementing the State-based health plan.

Here's how it appears in "Obamacare":

The Secretary shall approve the plan only if it meets criteriaconsistent with that of the America’s Healthy Future Act, includingthat it shall lower health care spending growth, improve the deliverysystem performance, provide affordable choices for all its citizens,expand protections against excessive out-of-pocket spending, providescoverage to the same number of uninsured and not increase the Federaldeficit.

Does this mean that Oregon can try its own coverage plan that's even more comprehensive than the federal plan? Does it mean it can try a public option? Yes, and it frees Democratic candidate for governor John Kitzhaber , who's having surprising trouble reclaiming the office he held for eight years against Republican candidate Chris Dudley, to promise that. On the narrow political question, yes, Wyden is proving that the mandate is unpopular. On the larger policy question, though, he's proving that "Obamacare" is all about moving the universal coverage ball down the field -- and universal coverage is popular. (So is Wyden, who's up 20 points , which scotches any theory that he's doing this out of panic.)

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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