As the battle for health care reform consumes the capital, Democratic Party Chairman and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean says, “We should kill this bill and start over!” As Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) NY tells it, “I’ve already compromised the compromise of my compromise! Senator Joe Lieberman proposed the Medicare buy-in and then flipped. This is like holding ourselves hostage with a gun to our own heads saying ‘you make one more move and we’re gonna shoot.’”
With the approval of America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009 (AHFA) by the Senate Finance Committee, the introduction of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) by the Senate Leadership, and the passage of the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962) in the House, final decisions on the key provisions of health reform legislation are under way. Each option would greatly reduce the number of uninsured and make health insurance more affordable for millions of Americans.
As Lieberman threatens to filibuster, the GOP decided to filibuster instead by having the Senate clerk read independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders’ 767 page single payer amendment out loud. A couple of hours later, Sanders withdrew the amendment in outrage at the Republicans. Ari Melber, columnist from the Nation, told MSNBC news, “Everything Joe Lieberman wanted gone is gone – yet he doesn’t have a consistent position.” Sen. Ben Nelson (D) OK is holding out for more abortion restrictions as an opportunity to use health care reform to further restrict reproductive rights. Others question whether the White House wants a deal at any cost. Fed up with all the concessions one liberal group is targeting White House Chief of Staff Ron Emanuel with an ad that says, “Snowe, Stupac, Lieberman who left these people in charge? It’s time for the President to stand up for the values our party share. We must stop letting the tail wag the dog in this debate.” Emanuel reportedly told Illinois democratic congressmen, John Conyers, “just pass anything so we can claim victory.” Dr. Dean is sticking to his guns by saying, “This isn’t real reform, this is worse than zero. It does more harm than good.”
Two great armies are positioned on the battlefield of health care reform. What’s at stake couldn’t be more real in the daily lives of battle weary Americans and they’re enormous for the Insurance and drug companies as well. In a recent Wall Street Journal poll 44% of Americans think the congress “better not pass reform.” Sen. Ron Wyden (D) Oregon says, “champagne corks will be popping all over Washington DC from the far right if this passes.” Yet Sen. Jean Shaheen (D) NH calls Dean’s position to kill the bill shortsighted, “We can’t have (45, 000) people die each year because they don’t have health insurance. Sen. Jay Rockerfellor, (D) West Virginia, agrees saying, “Republicans have been saying hold off for sixty years, health care reform is usually done every 20 years, now it’ll have to be done every year, I love it. With (the late RI) Sen. Chafee we passed the Children’s Health Insurance program in 1996, this bill will keep millions of children on the program and allow us to add more . . . the medical loss ratio is in there (meaning the insurers will have to spend 85% of all their dollars on actual medical care) 31 million more people will have insurance. Unfortunately, the Medicare buy-in and Medicare benchmarks are out.”
But that’s the problem. Most Americans fear that without the public option we’re creating a mandate for millions of Americans to buy health insurance without the affordability that’ll come with competition. It looks like the Senate bill is a real sell-out because it does call for coverage for 31 million more people that’ll be subsidized by the government at a cost of billions of dollars to the taxpayer, but that brings family coverage to over $19,000 per year. Right now pre-existing condition exclusions (insurers have to cover you for illnesses you already have) and prohibitions against insurers dropping consumers when they become ill, savings to seniors for the cost of prescription drugs are provisions worth saving. The difference between the House and Senate bills seem to be in terms of implementation time and the public option. One example of a positive senate provision is in terms of re- hospitalization of people on Medicare: one third of patients reenter the hospital within thirty days of discharge because of a lack of transitional care costing billions of dollars. The transitional care provisions would save 5K per beneficiary per year.
But that’s why we need to focus on the conference committee. “That’s where the brass knuckles are going to come out, says Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post. Independent analysis projects that there will be cost savings with these bills, but most Americans have been swayed by misinformation and scare tactics and consequently fear change. The fine print calls for a 300 % increase in premiums for consumers with pre-existing conditions so will people actually be able to buy coverage?