We know what one such approach would look like. It’s the eventual endgame that liberals pushing a “public option” are aiming for: a federal takeover of the health-insurance sector, paid for by rising tax rates, in which the government guarantees universal access while using its monopoly power to hold down costs.

But there’s another path, equally radical, that’s more in keeping with the traditional American approach to government, taxation and free enterprise. This approach would give up on the costly goal of insuring everyone for everything, forever. Instead, it would seek to insure Americans only against costs that exceed a certain percentage of their income, while expecting them to pay for everyday medical expenditures out of their own pockets.

Such a system would provide universal catastrophic health insurance, in other words, while creating a free market for non-catastrophic care. In the process, it would marry a central conservative insight — that we’ll never control spending so long as Americans are insulated from the true price of their medical care — to the admirable liberal premise that nobody should go bankrupt paying for life-saving treatment.