Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Call This Reform?

The extremists on both sides of the health care reform issue are taking every step possible to change or scuttle the bill that sits before them like a blazing Yule log. Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) added an amendment that would add a national single-payer health insurance plan to the reform package. Even though everyone knew what was in the amendment and everyone knew it had no chance from the start, the reactionary Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) demanded the Sanders amendment be read out loud, not because of Coburn's own opposition to the amendment but because it was 767 pages long and require ten hours to read word for word . . . and would so continue the Republican tactic of slowing the debate to keep anything from passing. Sanders, who must have realized he made his point, withdrew the amendment so that debate could continue.
What debate? Single-payer insurance was never going to get a full hearing. A public health insurance option was supposed to be the alternative to such a plan. That's gone, too, as is the Medicare buy-in plan for late-middle-age Americans, which Joe Lieberman thought was a good idea until he found out that liberals liked it. So what are we left with? A bill that makes sex discrimination on insurance policies illegal, allows health insurance portability for people changing jobs (if they're lucky to find another job these days), and guarantees coverage for pre-existing conditions. Well, what could possibly be bad about a health care reform bill that includes all that?
This: Americans would be required to purchase health insurance, insurance companies would remain unregulated and free to charge whatever they want for their policies, and even then, there's no guarantee that you could collect for an illness if you had to. This bill is not reform. It gives all sorts of advantages to the health insurance companies, it would burden those who buy federally mandated health insurance with exorbitant costs, and it would penalize those who don't buy health insurance with fines. This bill does not "expand" coverage; it forces people to buy a product and thus does little more than create customers for private businesses, much like current federal transportation policy, by favoring highway construction over mass transit, forces Americans to buy cars and creates customers not just for car companies but for companies making products to keep cars running - oil companies, for example.
There's one chief difference here - when you buy a car, you don't have to buy an expensive sedan; you can buy a cheap economy car or a used car. When you buy health insurance, any plan you buy will likely be expensive because there'll be no competition from or regulation by the federal government to keep companies honest or reduce costs.
This "reform" plan in the Senate is a travesty. It's time for Senate Democratic leaders and the White House to admit that reform is not working out like they pictured it - it's certainly not working out like I pictured it - and go to reconciliation. Going to a procedure that requires only a 51-vote majority, supported by former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, would mean that Democrats no longer have to kowtow to insurance company lackeys like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, or to those Southern belles Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) likens the bill in its current form to a starter house with a solid foundation that can be added on to later. This bill ain't even a log cabin! If you want a solid foundation, start by containing the necessary costs to build the foundation. Don't pay the contractor a high salary for a job that's only going to have to be returned to later.
Because reconciliation is not likely to happen, the only recourse is to hope for some of the more punitive language of the mandates to be revised in conference with the House. But as long as the legislation defers to the insurance companies, the American health care system will remain a "system" that hardly merits the term.

No comments: