How Pharma and Insurance Intend to Kill the Public Option, And What Obama and the Rest of Us Must Do...
By Robert Reich
I'ved poked around Washington today, talking with friends on the Hill who confirm the worst: Big Pharma and Big Insurance are gaining ground in their campaign to kill the public option in the emerging health care bill.Everyone hates corporate healthcare-- now, public demand could really change it...By Jim Hightower
You know why, of course. They don't want a public option that would compete with private insurers and use its bargaining power to negotiate better rates with drug companies. They argue that would be unfair. Unfair? Unfair to give more people better health care at lower cost? To Pharma and Insurance, "unfair" is anything that undermines their profits.
So they're pulling out all the stops -- pushing Democrats and a handful of so-called "moderate" Republicans who say they're in favor of a public option to support legislation that would include it in name only. One of their proposals is to break up the public option into small pieces under multiple regional third-party administrators that would have little or no bargaining leverage. A second is to give the public option to the states where Big Pharma and Big Insurance can easily buy off legislators and officials, as they've been doing for years. A third is bind the public plan to the same rules private insurers have already wangled, thereby making it impossible for the public plan to put competitive pressure on the insurers.
Max Baucus, Chair of Senate Finance (now exactly why does the Senate Finance Committee have so much say over health care?) hasn't shown his cards but staffers tell me he's more than happy to sign on to any one of these.
Now is the time for boldness! Instead, we're getting Baucusness. Sen. Max Baucus, that is--Montana Democrat, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and frequent spear-carrier for the corporate agenda. He has now been tapped to handle Obama's promised rewrite of America's warped, ineffective, and exorbitantly expensive health-care system.
This should be a dream job for the Democratic leadership. Consumers despise today's corporatized medical structure. So do doctors, nurses, and other health-care workers. So do businesses that provide health-care coverage for their employees. The insurance-company-dominated system is so unpopular that swine flu enjoys a higher public-approval rating! A Pew Research Center poll taken in March 2009 shows that the American people don't merely want the current system fixed, they want it overhauled--76% say it must either be "fundamentally changed" or "completely rebuilt."
What an opportune moment this is for Obama to do something BIG for America--a rare, Rooseveltian moment in which the president and Congress have the chance (and duty) to rise above business as usual, to respond for once to the people's interest, to create a universal public service that would actually move our society a couple of strides closer to America's egalitarian ideals of fairness, justice, and opportunity for all.
Luckily, the "something big" is readily at hand. It's called a "single-payer" health-care system--a structural reform that has been successfully implemented in several countries, as well as in our own Medicare and veterans health programs. By expanding this system nationally, every person in our land would be assured good-quality care. No longer would profiteering insurance corporations control entry, dictating which doctors we can use (and what treatments they can provide), gouging us with ever-rising premiums and co-pays, and ripping off a third of our nation's health-care dollars for things that have nothing to do with either health or care--including ridiculous CEO pay packages, excess profits, massive billing bureaucracies, useless advertising hustles, posh headquarters, lobbying expenses, etc.
With the single-payer plan, we'd regain the right to go to the doctors and hospitals of our choosing, and doctors would regain authority over patient care. As the plan's name suggests, the difference is not in who delivers the care, but in how our health-care professionals get paid. Rather than the wasteful, autocratic middleman structure that now separates us patients from our providers (generating paperwork costs of some $350 billion a year), a no-frills, government-administered public fund would pay everyone's health-care bills directly--eliminating the interferences and overcharges of arrogant and avaricious insurance behemoths. Full coverage for all, less cost. Makes sense.
So, just prior to last month's opening Senate hearing, which was billed as a "round-table discussion" to air all viewpoints about how to reform the system, what was the one caveat laid down by Baucus? "Everything is on the table with the exception of single-payer," spake the chairman. "This country is not going to adopt single-payer, at least not at this time," he ruled with a royal wave of his hand.
Sheesh. Just when we need political boldness worthy of the ages, Baucus starts us off with his own Profile in Pusillanimity.
Then, on the first day of public testimony, the chairman backed up his weak-kneed approach to reform with, of all things, a show of force. As insurance giants and other representatives of corporatized health care were seated to testify, eight uninvited doctors, nurses, and other advocates of single-payer arose from the audience to protest their exclusion from the forum. "We want a seat at the table," shouted one protester. Rather than engaging these banned citizens on the merits, Baucus retorted, "We want police," summoning the capitol cops to arrest those who had so rudely interrupted his show. With the threat of unscripted democratic dialogue safely restrained, Chairman Baucus then turned to those who remained and said, "I want you to know I care deeply about your views."
So it is up you to let your Representatives know what to do. As Robert Reich suggests, "Let your representative and senators know you want a public option without conditions or triggers -- one that gives the public insurer bargaining leverage over drug companies, and pushes insurers to do what they've promised to do."