This essay considers on what health policy issues the federal government is best able to lead. Positive leadership requires knowledge, power, and will. The federal government has different supplies of each for different aspects of quality of, cost of, and access to health care. Here I review technical capacity to attain desired ends, define the institutional strengths and weaknesses of the federal government, and out-line current dynamics of the national political process. This analysis suggests both prospects for and some characteristics of successful policy. The federal government is more likely to lead on insurance than on other health policy issues because its supply of relevant knowledge and power is relatively high on insurance issues and the political barriers are lower than conventional wisdom suggests. But that leadership could take the form of either the expanding or contracting of access to insurance.

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