It is not the economy, stupid. It is health care.

Former President Bill Clinton famously won on a general economic message in 1992, delivering his famous “stupid” comment. It resonated among Americans enduring an unemployment rate of nearly 8 percent. Growth was anemic, the stock market was stagnant and the country remained nervously dependent on foreign oil.

Candidates in 2018, by stark contrast, run with the lowest unemployment rate since 1969, record-high stock indicators, record-setting domestic energy production and a spate of other extraordinary economic data.

Despite this enviably robust economy, average consumers continue struggling with health care costs. Many of the fully employed and insured cannot afford soaring co-pays and deductibles, or the growing list of care, procedures and drugs insurers won’t pay for.

A Gallup poll in March found health care the highest concern among Americans. A Colorado gubernatorial poll released last week supports those findings. The nonpartisan Healthier Colorado foundation commissioned the poll, conducted by Democratic firm Keating Research and Republican counterpart Magellan Strategies.

“We see a lot of division in politics today, but when it comes to health issues, Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters in Colorado are uniquely united,” said Jake Williams, Healthier Colorado’s executive director, in a statement about the poll. “No matter who wins the race for governor or which party controls the Colorado House or Senate, Colorado voters of all political stripes clearly agree that we should make progress on health policy.”

We don’t need more minor adjustments around the edges. We don’t need more worthless “free” health care policies. Politicians easily produce “free” and “affordable” policies in return for votes, and consumers learn these gifts cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to use.

Instead of more bad health care scrip, we need a surplus of are providers competing for customers with easier access and lower, more competitive prices. We need the market to produce a supply-side tsunami that disrupts an assortment of unnatural factors and protectionist schemes that separate the health care sector from economic reality.

“No family should be stuck with the decision of paying their mortgage or paying for health care,” says Colorado Republican gubernatorial nominee Walker Stapleton in the first “issues” statement on his website.

He pledges policies that create more choice and access. He wants more mobile clinics and telehealth businesses. He defends coverage for pre-existing conditions and the Affordable Care Act’s provision that keeps young adults on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26.

Democratic nominee Jared Polis declares health care a “human right,” offering a single-payer socialized system in which government provides Medicare-for-all.

The Stapleton plan takes time and effort to unpack but focuses on “care” rather than a government entitlement parading as “health care.”

The Polis plan requires little effort to comprehend. He would give each person a membership in the popular Medicare program, which today serves mostly seniors who earned it through decades of paying into the system.

Multiple studies, even by Democratic economists, detail how we cannot afford Medicare-for-all. A recent study out of Virginia’s George Mason University found the country could not afford it nationally if government doubled all individual and corporate income taxes. On a smaller, statewide or multi-state scale the economics of this promise only get worse.

Even if we found a way to pay for universal Medicare, we lack anything approaching a sufficient supply of practitioners to deliver that much care. As we have learned from Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, politicians can tell people they are covered — they can pass out plastic insurance cards — but it doesn’t mean the people get care. The more we spread coverage, the more the system rations its capacity with higher out-of-pocket costs.

For this reason alone, today’s Medicare recipients should beware of the Polis health care plan. Spreading Medicare among all age groups means less care for seniors. We cannot multiply demand on a static system without reapportioning that which it provides.

Voters should reward the first politician — Republican or Democrat — who dares promise to reinvent the health care debate. Voters need a leader with ideas for educating and licensing more doctors and nurses. We need a leader who talks about more competition, opposing mergers that centralize the production, distribution and pricing of drugs.

We need ideas to incentivize innovative health care startups, simultaneously removing unreasonable barriers to entry and success

Our economy flourishes, statewide and nationally. It should fund and provide a surplus of competitive care that gets better and cheaper as providers compete.

Go big, and lead a with a plan to fundamentally change the way we sell and consume health care statewide and nationally. Voters need a solution and are ready for new ideas. It is health care, dummy. Make history by fixing it.

The Gazette editorial board

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