Enough volume and rancor went into the national health-care debate to make it sad that we can't harness them to make the nation truly energy independent. But while Republicans and Democrats clubbed each other daffy with public options, back-room deals, death panels and coverage mandates, Louisiana public health officials pushed ahead quietly with their own plans for reforming health care — or at least that portion of the state's health care provided by Medicaid. That portion turns out to be regrettably large.

That's one reason Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, particularly Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine, deserve praise for moving ahead. Their plan offers at least a chance to contain Medicaid costs while actually improving care for those who rely on the state-federal program for their coverage.

Medicaid has become the fearsome beast that must be assauged each year before serious work on the state budget can begin. Its $7 billion pricetag goes up because health costs go up, and the cost is bound to go up more because of the federal health-care reform bill. The newly passed reform expands Medicaid eligibility. And then there's the still-to-be-resolved "FMAP" problem, which has artifically inflated the percentage of Medicaid funding Louisiana will be expected to pay.

The answer Jindal and Levine came up with is, in effect, to hire networks of private providers to cover Medicaid patients, or at least the mandated populations, mostly single adults with children. Each parent could choose a plan based on a provider's success with specific health conditions that might be of concern in the family — diabetes, say, or asthma.

The Jindal plan has everything — choice for recipients, choice for providers, cost containment, expanded coverage, and the tantalizing prospect of improved results for our state and federal money. We believe it will represent a big step toward a better, healthier Louisiana.