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Fixing Health Insurance--in The Industry's Backyard

Hartford, Connecticut, has been called the "insurance captial of the world." Could it be the insurance reform captial of the world, too? Last week, a coalition of unions and liberal advocacy groups unveiled a new proposal to give every state resident affordable insurance coverage. This account in the New York Times has the details:

The plan ... would create an extensive health insurance purchasing pool that would include state employees, retirees, people covered by state assistance and the public. It would provide all residents access to their choice of health coverage and care regardless of their employment status, age, or pre-existing conditions, according to the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, which presented the proposal after two years of planning. ...

Juan Figueroa, president of the foundation, said: “This is in essence a public plan designed to compete in the private market place. You are using the purchase power of the state to create a pool.”

I don't know enough about the proposal's specifics to assess it with any authority right now. (I'll try to look into it; readers familiar with it should feel free to chime in.) But even without knowing the details, it's hard not to see this episode as an encouraging sign about the national political environment.

The general impulse here--to have government run a large purchasing pool, with highly regulated insurance that would be available to anybody--is the very same impulse behind the plans that Barack Obama and his congressional allies intend to push this year.

It's not a new idea. Policy wonks have been discussing such schemes for years. The problem was that nobody except fellow policy wonks seemed to notice.

But the Connecticut effort seems to have some genuine, if early, political momentum. Major leaders in the state Democratic party support the proposal, as apparently do labor unions and the state medical society. More intriguing, though, is the way this effort seems to be tapping into the broader enthusiasm for reform. According to the Times account, Tuesday's raucous crowd--which numbered about a thousnad people--periodically interrupted the speakers with chants of "Yes We Can." Sound familiar?

Connecticut is just one state, of course, and one energetic meeting does not a successful campaign make. But similar efforts are underway in other states and, from the bits and pieces I've picked up, it sounds like they're generating enthusiasm as well.

Place those efforts alongside the national campaigns that groups like the Service Employees International Union and Health Care for America Now are operating--not to mention Obama's own organizing infrastructure--and it's possible to discern the shape of an actual reform movement, the kind that's essential for making universal health care a reality.

By the way, if you want to learn more about the Connecticut effort, you check out their video:

--Jonathan Cohn