(And thank heaven for that.)
So Sen. Max Baucus’s Finance Committee has finally released a health care “reform” bill, months after every other committee charged with the task. (Or a “Chairman’s Mark” version of one, at least—i.e., something actually readable by laymen [pdf]).
The predictable result? It’s awful. Any Democrat who would vote for a bill that looks like this has absolutely no political sense whatsoever, much less policy sense, and should be drummed out of office on general principle.
Fortunately, most of them seem to realize that.
Fellow Finance Committee member Jay Rockefeller has already said there is “no way” he will vote for it. John Kerry says “it’s not going to be the bill we’re going to vote on.” Over on the House side of the Hill, yesterday a key committee took testimony again from former Cigna insurance executive Wendell Potter, who calls Baucus’s bill “an absolute gift to the industry”—and Nancy Pelosi called it “the Private Insurance Profit Perpetuation Act,” saying “we have no intention of doing that.”
Not a single Republican has signed on to support it, either—not even Grassley, Enzi, or Snowe, the hand-picked members of Baucus’s “gang of six.” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is still demagoguing the issue, claiming “The American people want health care reform—not with more government, but with less. They don’t want a new government-run system; they want us to repair the system we’ve got.” McConnell is lying, of course. Poll after poll demonstrates that substantial majorities of Americans want the choice of a public option—and for that matter, so do substantial majorities of doctors. Damn straight I, personally, would prefer not to put my money into the hands of the parasitical insurance industry.
Baucus’s bill would leave me no choice, though. It includes no public option; instead it suggests a feeble “co-op” alternative, which has been tried in Wisconsin with (at best) limited effectiveness and which offers no serious prospect of competing with large private insurers. What the bill does, mainly, is forces Americans into a captive market for those private insurers. There are no mandates for employers, only individuals.
And what we’d be forced to buy is, not to mince words, junk coverage that is neither “quality” nor “affordable,” contrary to Baucus’s rhetoric. Copays of 30% or more? Seriously? The New Republic examines the details and links to a memo [pdf] the committee drew up estimating the costs citizens would bear. A family of four earning $66k (roughly the national median household income) would have average health care costs (premiums and “cost sharing” combined) of $12,800, or 19.4% of gross income. A single adult earning $32k (again, roughly the median) would have costs of $5,600, or 17.3% of gross income. And those are just the average costs, not the maximums to which people could be exposed. Based on CBO models, the actuarial value of the coverage (i.e., the portion of costs an insurer actually has to cover) could be as low as 66%.
Speaking of the CBO… its cost projections for the overall reform proposal(s) are being used by anti-reform demagogues to stand in the way of getting anything done. Sen. Kent Conrad (part of Baucus’s “gang of six”) has arranged to have those projections cover a 20-year time horizon, rather than the usual ten, the better to inflate the perceived costs. This, despite the fact that the scrupulously careful CBOs’ conservative projections have consistently overestimated government health-care costs and underestimated savings in the past, judging by its Medicare forecasts. (Yes, it really is possible to save money by reducing fraud and abuse.)
Baucus’s pretext about seeking bipartisanship is beyond ridiculous at this point. His dithering and delay and compromise hasn’t won over a single Republican; it only gave them a chance to ramp up their (incoherent but angry) rhetorical war against reform. In reality Baucus’s approach was all about pleasing the lobbyists who have inflated his campaign coffers so handsomely. This is a bill designed to guarantee profits for the insurance industry. (Otherwise known as “the bastards who caused this mess.”)
As I said, no self-respecting Democrat should vote for a bill that looks like this. Because even if one or two Republicans do eventually cross over… the Dems unequivocally own this bill in the public mind. All the credit—or blame—will fall to them. What’s most important, therefore, is that whatever passes actually work, not stick it to the average middle class citizen.
How many Dem votes is it worth losing to pick up a Republican vote? NONE. How many voters is it worth pissing off to please industry donors? The answer is the same, and for the same reason. That’s what it means to have a majority. You don’t let the opposition dictate the terms (the GOP damn sure never did), and you don’t pander to lobbyists rather than the public interest… because in either case, there’s no one to blame but yourselves, and the voting public can and will recognize that.
(Yet the DSCC is doing public fundraising right now. Ain’t that a hoot?)
It’s on the Dems to do the right thing here. Give us a public plan, one that anyone can opt into, one that will genuinely expand coverage and reduce costs. Nothing less is worth considering.Tags: Democrats, health care, insurance, Max Baucus, Republicans, Senate