Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Baucus Committee OKs a Health Bill, But Not Reform

From John Nichols at The Nation

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

The vote on the measure -- which does not include a public option to hold insurance companies to account -- was 14-9, with all Democrats on the committee and Maine Republican Olympia Snowe voting Tuesday to toss the measure into the legislative sausage-grinder that will eventually produce final legislation for the Senate to consider.

The important thing to remember is that for all of Tuesday's attention to the finance committee vote, the full Senate will never vote on this particular measure.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chair Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has said throughout the process that "the bill that (the Finance Committee) proposes is just that – a proposal."

Harkin is too polite to state the obvious: The Finance Committee proposal is no more likely to become law than the slacker student's last-to-be-handed-in homework assignment is to be awarded academic honors.

That's a good thing because the Finance Committee bill falls far short of real health care reform. It steers billions of taxpayer dollars into the accounts of insurance companies while failing to provide a realistic, humane or fiscally-responsible alternative to their profiteering.
The problems with the Finance Committee's proposal extend far beyond the fact that it fails to establish a government-run alternative to compete with the private insurers that will be ridiculously enriched by it.

But the lack of a "public option" should make the Baucus bill a nonstarter. As insurance-industry insider turned whistleblower Wendell Potter explained in an advertisement produced by MoveOn.org, the Baucus bill would, if enacted effectively, "kill health reform."

"Take it from me," argues Potter, "the Senate Finance bill is a dream come true of the health insurance industry. If there is no public option insurance companies aren't going to change. The choice of a public health insurance option is the only way to keep insurance companies honest."
Perhaps that is why the other four congressional committees that produced health-care reform bills – three in the House and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee -- have included far more robust language with regard to alternatives to for-profit insurance companies.
It is Harkin, not Baucus, who is the serious health-care reformer in the Senate.

It is Harkin, not Baucus, who has consistently promoted the public option and who continues to argue that it can and will be a part of any final legislation. "Look," says Harkin, "five committees have reported a bill out on healthcare. Four of them have a public option. One doesn't. So you would think the weight would be on the side of having a public option in the bill – and that's where it is."

And it is Harkin, the chairman who gets his work done on time and right, that we should be paying attention to now that Baucus has finally finished his silly sideshow.

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