Weekly Pulse: Finance Committee Passes Health Bill


Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee finally passed its health care bill. John Nichols of the Nation reacts:

If every kid in class finishes their homework except for
one, guess which kid will get the most attention. That’s right, the
slacker.

And, when the slacker finally does turn in the assignment, it is invariably a slapdash job that fails to meet minimum standards.

So it is in the U.S. Senate, where the Finance Committee finally got around to finishing its health care reform assignment.

The bill passed by a vote of 14-9. All the Democrats, plus Sen.
Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted in favor. As we know, it doesn’t include
a public option.

Robert Scheer, also of the Nation, sums up the bill as written:

The main thrust of the proposal is to forcibly submit
even more customers to the tender mercies of the insurance industry
while doing nothing significant to cut costs. Insurers will now pretend
that the burdens on them are onerous and will demand concessions to
make this an even bigger boondoggle for the medical profiteers than
George W. Bush’s prescription drug coverage initiative

Sheer sees the Finance Committee bill as a sop to the health
insurers. If it were to pass in its present form, it would deliver
millions of new customers to private insurers by requiring everyone to
carry insurance. The free market keeps costs down when companies
compete to give the best value for the lowest price. But most health
insurers operate as monopolies on their home turf. If insurers had to
compete for customers, they’d have an incentive to lower their prices.
That’s why progressives want to introduce competition in the form of a
public option.

An all-private insurance system gives power to an industry that it is indifferent to the needs of the people it claims to serve.

Before we go any further, our warmest congratulations to Robin
Marty, who is expecting her second child. In a piece for RH Reality
check, Marty details how the private insurance industry toys with
people’s lives in pursuit of profit. For Marty and her husband, joy is
mixed with apprehension because their maximum out-of-pocket insurance
cost just doubled. By the time the baby arrives, Marty’s husband
expects to pay 10% of his pre-tax income
just to keep his family insured. And they’d better hope that bundle of
joy is of an actuarially-approved size. An insurance company in
Colorado refused to cover a 4-month-old baby because he was “too fat,”
according to the boy’s father. The company relented after media
pressure, but there’s no indication that they plan to drop their
general rule that babies whose weight is above the 95th percentile
don’t get covered.

Earlier this week, the insurance industry broadsided the Obama
administration by releasing a “report” warning that health care reform
would cause premiums to skyrocket.

As economist Robert Reich explains in TAPPED, the industry was upset that the Senate Finance Committee was considering more lenient punishments
for young healthy people who don’t buy health insurance. (They would
still be fined, just not as much.) The industry report claimed that if
the government spares the rod, only old sick people will sign up, and
premiums will be higher for everyone. Reich argues that the report
inadvertently makes the case for the public option:

But the bomb went off under the insurers. The only
reason these costs can be passed on to consumers in the form of higher
premiums is because there’s not enough competition among private
insurers to force them to absorb the costs by becoming more efficient.
Get it? Health insurers have just made the best argument yet about why
a public insurance option is necessary.

Steve Benen of the Washington Independent notes that former Democrat Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) went on Don Imus’s syndicated shock jock radio show to echo the insurance industry’s talking points.
“I’m afraid that in the end, the Baucus bill is actually going to raise
the price of insurance for most of the people in the country,”
Lieberman said.

With all this hypothesizing and posturing, it’s easy to forget that
neither Lieberman–nor anyone else—is going to vote on the Baucus bill
as written. The Finance Committee bill is just one of several proposals
to have passed their respective committees. In the Senate, the more
liberal Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) passed a
bill with a public option this summer. All the House health reform
bills also include a public option.

As Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent explains, the tone of the debate is expected to shift dramatically:
Now that the various bills have cleared their bipartisan committees,
power shifts to the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate who
are in charge of shaping the final legislation.

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