How likely is it that about a week or so after the governor of California, the nation’s most populous state, unveiled a sweeping proposal for universal health coverage that the governor of Pennsylvania, the nation’s 6th most populous state, would unveil his own plan for dealing with the epidemic of the uninsured?

Well, it’s long been said that “truth is stranger than fiction,” and certainly one does not have to look too far in 2007 (actually, no farther than Washington, D.C.) to see that this time-tested and time-worn axiom still holds a modicum of insight into reality.

So it is that just last week Gov. Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania took his shot at attempting to solve a problem that is all but crushing a lot of the states, especially those with large populations.

The first state to forge a plan to deal with the health coverage of all its residents was Massachusetts, which lately has had a knack of busting through barriers of one sort or another.

Interestingly, of the 3 states that have now unveiled such programs, 2 had Republican governors (Massachusetts’ Mitt Romney is now running for president, but Arnold Schwarzenegger just began his 2nd term in California), while one has a Democratic chief.

(Actually, Maine and Vermont have programs in place with the same aim but which were revealed with little fanfare.)

While the programs of these states each have the same end–that is, universal health coverage–the means of getting there have been tailored to their individual circumstances.

I forget who made the remark about the states being laboratories for experimentation on the health care/coverage front, but it is certainly working out that way.

Rendell’s plan, called “Prescription for Pennsylvania,” has the following goals: “to increase access to affordable health care coverage for all Pennsylvanians, improve the quality of care, and bring health care costs under control for employers and employees.”

By the governor’s count, there are some 767,000 Pennsylvanians who are without the basic health care they need.

What has also been interesting in the 3 states that have so far unveiled universal health proposals is the similarity of rhetoric supporting the plans as well as a sense of urgency that seems to be painfully absent on the federal level (with perhaps the exception of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who has long been a champion of universal health coverage).

Thus Rendell says: “It is no longer a question of whether we can afford to act. The cost of inaction is far greater in terms of individual health consequences and the increasing burden on taxpayers.”

He continues: “Cover All Pennsylvanians focuses urgent help where it is needed the most: on small businesses and on the uninsured. The majority of uninsured adults in Pennsylvania are employed, and most of the uninsured workers hold full-time jobs. By bringing down the cost of coverage, we can make it easier for businesses and employees to obtain desperately needed health coverage.”

Little did I think that this early in the year we would see 2 universal health care proposals from 2 very different states.

It occurred to me that if this trend continued at this pace for the rest of the year, my concerns about subjects for a weekly column would evaporate. All I’d have to do is comment on the most recent of the state entrants into a situation that has the power to revolutionize health care coverage and delivery in this country.

All right, who’s next?

Steve Piontek

Editor-in-Chief