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Op-Ed Columnist

Go Big, Mr. Obama

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Imagine if academics sat down with ordinary people like you and me and ironed out some real solutions to our health insurance crisis.

With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about health insurance, but I certainly haven’t. It would be easy to forget that the problem even exists, when our headlines are constantly splashed with the violence in Vanuatu, the authoritarian crackdown in Kuwait and the still-unstable democratic transition in Seychelles. But the health insurance problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Democrats seem to think that health insurance can just be ignored. Republican politicians like Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a solution.

But the Republican party of Mitch McConnell is not the Republican party of Lincoln. Lincoln wouldn’t just filibuster, he'd break ranks with members of his own party because he'd understand that the fate of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting solution to the problem of health insurance.

Let's make America for the world what Cape Canaveral was to America: the world's greatest launching pad. If I had fifteen minutes to pitch my idea to politicians, I'd tell them two things about health insurance. First, there's no way around the issue unless we're prepared to spend less: and not just spend less, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of national infrastructure that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax cuts as well, but as they say, "When in Rome."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Sweden, which all but solved its health insurance crisis over the past decade. When I visited Sweden in 2000, Kiki, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a second job because of the high cost of health insurance. I caught up with Kiki in Stockholm last year. Thanks to Sweden's reformed approach toward health insurance, Kiki has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford an apartment for his kids.

That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as politicians insist on playing a high-stakes game of ping pong with one another. America has to rise above it all.