As the health care debate continues in Washington, one suggestion that has been offered is to put government employees, starting with members of Congress, staffers, and their families, on the public option from the outset. This is a very good idea. In fact, I would suggest doing this for a year or more before the public option is available to the public. This would allow the plan to get rolling, and smooth out some of the inevitable rough edges, before the plan scales up to the 50 to 100 million customers that it would eventually have to cover.
It’s less expensive to get something going on a small scale, then make it bigger, than it is to try to launch something on a massive scale from the outset. But from day 1, the public option would cost the government less than it currently pays for employee health care. The immediate cost savings would also make the public option more politically acceptable. It still looks unlikely that any effective health care bill will pass Congress this year, but if it does, I hope it will include the amendments that would start the public option with government employees, or at least Congressional employees.