Welcome to the 21st Century, Sue Lowden

After the yearlong debate about how to solve America’s health-care problems, it seems we have an answer.

Sue Lowden, Republican hopeful for the Nevada Senate seat of Majority Leader Harry Reid, gave the media, the blogosphere, and late-night comedians something to chatter about this week when she said Americans should barter for health care. She harked back to those old days when our grandparents took chickens to the doctor.

"You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor, they would say I’ll paint your house," she said. "I mean, that’s the old days of what people would do to get health care with your doctors. Doctors are very sympathetic people. I’m not backing down from that system."

Talking heads, TV personalities, bloggers, and protesters—even the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee—jumped aboard the you-just-can’t-make-this-stuff-up train and called out Lowden for her silly plan. The DSCC created Chickens for Checkup, allowing people to fill in a disease—rickets, scurvy, gout—and offer an exchange for care—10 chickens, two goats, 50 bushels of barley.

Since her original statement, Lowden hasn’t backed down and even offered support from a doctor who claims to have bartered—alfalfa hay, a bathtub, yardwork, and horse shoeing—for care in the past.

Lowden says bartering isn’t a new idea and could solve health-care problems; we just need to keep an open mind to all options.

It’s not that this isn’t a likely option for some, but it won’t fix the rising cost of care nationwide or rescue families from bankruptcy. As one commentator put it, how many chickens would it take to pay for a CT scan? Mothers with sick children don’t have time to work, care for their family, and put horseshoes on a doctor’s stallion.

Our medical system isn’t the same as it was before 1900, and doctors don’t go to school for eight-plus years to get paid in chickens, barley, housework, etc. (Surely loan officers won’t accept chickens as payment for those hefty medical-school loans.) This isn’t a 19th-century problem, and a 19th-century solution won’t help.

The right wing might be casting the Democrats’ progressive plans as the enemy, but finding a legislative platform from the past couple of centuries isn’t going to get anyone elected. Lowden may have a lead in the polls right now, but unless she admits her flub and moves on to offer practical, 21st-century ideas, her lead won’t last very long.    

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