As Congress and the White House dawdle, programs that are properly a federal responsibility—environmental protection and health care, to name two—are being taken on by the states.
By far, the most crucial of Washington's neglected issues is health insurance coverage for a shamefully large bloc of Americans without it. An estimated 46 million Americans lack insurance.
In Idaho, according to the state Department of Health and Welfare, of 1,048,787 adults 18 years and older in 2006, nearly 19 percent, or 197,171, had no health insurance. Of children under 18, nearly 12 percent, or 43,339, had none.
This issue isn't only a matter of social conscience. People lacking health insurance inevitably are less healthy because of an inability or unwillingness to seek care. This in turn has a profound economic affect on workplace productivity and ultimately on costs of emergency services funded by all taxpayers.
The state of Utah has been drafting a health insurance program, sprinkled with elements from a Massachusetts program, that Idaho should study for its possible application here.
Utah's goal is to cover every Utahn within three years. If achieved, Utah would have established the gold standard for health, one that other states could merely envy or ambitiously emulate.
The Utah plan is aimed at 360,000 Utahns and would target three groups.
First, the poor, whom the state would enlist in existing programs such as Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program and the state's Utah Premium Partnership for Health, which provides state assistance with insurance premiums.
Second, workers who don't quality for existing programs but can't afford insurance. They would receive subsidies.
Third, people who can afford insurance but don't buy it—about half of the total uninsured. Unless people in this group bought insurance, they would face penalties, such as being barred from attending college or getting a job.
Added to these objectives is a requirement that insurance companies must insure everyone without regard to medical history. The insurance giant Blue Cross/Blue Shield supports this plan.
Idaho lawmakers who might recoil from such a program should consider this: The fact that all Idaho workers and all children would be covered by health insurance would be an irresistible attraction for companies seeking to establish new branch offices or headquarters.
Like Utah, Idaho should begin to solve the problem and quit waiting for a federal solution that may never come.