Wednesday, September 30, 2009

R.I.P., Public Option (2009-2009)

Rejoice TeaBaggers, you've won. Break out the Milwaukee's Best!!!
The Senate Finance Committee rejected an amendment Tuesday that would have created a government-run health insurance plan, but debate over a proposed public plan is not expected to end at the committee.

By a 15-8 vote, the Finance panel rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., that would create a public health insurance option. Under Rockefeller's amendment, a government-run plan would inherit Medicare's network of doctors and hospitals and pay them based on Medicare payment rates for its first two years.

All Republicans on the panel voted against Rockefeller's amendment, in addition to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Thomas Carper, D-Del.

Democrats supporting the Rockefeller amendment pointed to several states in which only a handful of insurers - sometimes as few as two - provide insurance coverage for the majority of those covered. The public option, they said, would guarantee a low-priced plan for consumers.

Republicans lambasted the amendment as an attempt to expand the federal government's reach and eliminate private insurers. A public plan would "crowd out" private insurers with artificially low prices, eventually forcing private insurers to absorb unpaid costs within the U.S. health system and charge their policyholders higher premiums.

Insurers are strongly opposed to a public health insurance plan in any form. Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the America's Health Insurance Plans trade group, said in a statement that a public health insurance option "would dismantle employer coverage, bankrupt hospitals, and add to the federal deficit."

Members of AHIP include leading insurers such as Aetna Inc., Humana Inc., Cigna Corp. and UnitedHealth Group Inc.
While I'm decidedly pro-reform and pretty neutral on the public option as a whole (just do something, anything, please!) I find it quite amuzing that lobbyists for companies like Cigna, United Health, and Humana wield so much influence in this process, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in their back pockets. Then again, I can understand such dogged opposition to such reform, given the fact that each of those companies continues to gross staggering profits, and can afford to pay their CEOs a pot of gold coins in bonuses each year. On an unrelated note: 2,000 folks stood in line all day to get some free medical attention at a healthcare fair in Houston over the weekend.

Just throwing that one out there, is all I'm sayin'.

Either way, I just hope this doesn't signal the beginning of the end for healthcare reform. I know the protagonists (you know who) would much rather do nothing and "wait until the economy improves", which essentially means never.

We'll see.

Question: Do you think the prospect of the public option is officially dead? Do you think it's essential to any substantive HC reform, or merely another piece of the puzzle?

US Senate Panel Rejects Adding Public Plan To Health Bill [WSJ]

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