By Robert Mann
In late 2007, before Gov. Bobby Jindal took office, I addressed a group of health insurance executives in New Orleans eager to learn about what Louisiana’s new governor had in store for them. Jindal is a health care expert and a policy wonk, I advised them. You may not like what he’ll propose for your industry, I warned, but brace yourselves for lots of innovation and policy experimentation.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The famously wonkish Jindal proved a conventional and unimaginative politician who, after more than six years as governor, has no major innovative idea to his name.
When it comes to public policy, Jindal sells used cars. From education to health care to economic development, the governor has sold us a collection of dilapidated conservative ideas and practices. That’s why, near the end of two terms, he has launched his nascent presidential campaign by outsourcing policy production to an Alexandria, Va., think tank, “America Next.”
After months of labor, Jindal and his advisers finally rolled out their first big policy initiative: “The Prescription for Conservative Consumer-Focused Health Care Reform.” Jindal went to Washington on Wednesday to present what some mistakenly characterized as a fresh policy prescription, founded on the proposition that the Affordable Care Act must be repealed.
Perhaps, like me, Washington’s policy mavens once regarded Jindal as an innovator and policy expert. If they study his plan, however, they’ll realize that his new vehicle is just a high-mileage contraption cobbled together with used parts that Republicans have been selling for years.
Seemingly blind to the fact that most Americans oppose repealing Obamacare, Jindal staged a junkyard sale of second-hand proposals, offering retreads like health savings accounts and “lawsuit reform.” Jindal salvaged another vintage GOP idea — turning the federal government’s most successful and popular program, Medicare, into a privatized voucher program.
He did unveil a redesign of Medicaid, a $100 billion block grant alternative to the current program. But while we wait for Congress and President Obama to realize the brilliance of that idea, wouldn’t it be sensible and humane to accept the federal Medicaid expansion dollars now on the table? Why must Louisiana’s working poor receive their health care only from a vehicle of Jindal’s design?
Jindal’s used-car special, however, wasn’t a total flop. He offered several decent suggestions, including guaranteeing better access for individuals who change jobs and cross-state insurance purchasing. (Even these commendable ideas are previously owned.)
But don’t mistake Jindal’s concern about your health care for a desire to improve or enhance the Affordable Care Act. As with most Republican leaders, it’s repeal the current law or nothing. Nothing, of course, is what he’ll get.
If Jindal truly cared about “his” ideas, he would work to build support for them as improvements to a health insurance law that’s here to stay. He won’t for one simple reason: Jindal’s plan is really about caring for the health of his presidential ambitions.
If Jindal were the policy expert he pretends to be — if he actually cared about devising an innovative alternative to the Affordable Care Act — he would have proposed something serious and bold when Congress debated the bill in 2009.