More on the Public Option

As Patrick Edaburn reported earlier, the Senate Finance Committee rejected a public option for the version of health care reform legislation they are preparing.

There were actually two separate proposals for a public option — one sponsored by Chuck Schumer from New York, and the other by Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. The Senate panel killed them both.

Brian Beutler explains the difference between the two amendments. He wrote this before the committee vote, so readers could understand what was being voted on, but some might still like to know what the majority on the committee rejected:

Two things to keep in mind if you’re watching the hearing or reading news accounts about the developments: the two proposals are very different, and neither is expected to pass. The Rockefeller amendment is a version of what we’ve come to know as the “robust” public option. It would, for a time, be tied to Medicare, and, thereafter, be able to use the government’s considerable leverage to bargain down payment rates with providers.

The Schumer proposal, by contrast, is what we’ve come to know as the “level playing field” public option: much like the public option provided for in the Senate HELP Committee’s proposal, its rates would be negotiated by the government with providers, just as private health insurance companies are forced to do.

In another post, Beutler notes that Sen. Rockefeller told the Senate panel that his plan “would save $50 billion over 10 years.” And Beutler added this amusing bit:

To the chagrin of chairman Max Baucus, Rockefeller is lambasting the insurance industry, and citing a number of ways other health care reform bills do a better job at reining in their excesses. He cited insurance industry whistleblower Wendell Potter, who said that, without a public option, health care reform legislation might as well be named the “Insurance Industry Profit Protection Act.”

The House bill, Rockefeller noted, would place strict limits on the so-called medical-loss ratio (i.e. percentage of each premium dollar that can go to profits, administrative costs, and other non-health care related activities.)

Steve Benen describes the “depressing debate” that took place in the Finance Committee today (although it’s also funny, as absurd arguments often are):

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has been repeating Lewin Group data that was debunked months ago. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has argued that socialized medicine costs less, which is a bad thing. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ken.) called a public option a “major step toward universal health care coverage.” He meant it as criticism.

This is not the debate you want to watch if you’re looking to be inspired by the grandeur of the American political system in action.

But Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) was especially interesting when he said the status quo in the United States does quite well on medical treatment, as compared to other countries, just so long as we don’t count those injured by guns or car accidents.

“Are you aware that if you take out gun accidents and auto accidents, that the United States actually is better than those other countries?” Ensign said. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) had been citing the health care systems of France, Germany, Japan and Canada as more effective, but with lower costs.

Conrad responded that one can bend statistics in all sorts of ways.

“But that doesn’t have anything to do with health care. Auto accidents don’t have anything to do with h–,” Ensign said, cutting himself off. “I mean we’re just a much more mobile society. … We drive our cars a lot more, they do public transportation. So you have to compare health care system with health care system.”

A few thoughts here. First, Ensign seemed to be making the case for gun control and expanded investment in public transportation. He actually opposes both.

Second, Ensign also said the U.S. does better than European countries on cancer survival rates.That’s not true.

And third, unless Ensign has a plan to eliminate shootings and car accidents, I’m not sure what he hopes to prove with his observation.

Update: And fourth, in case it wasn’t clear, Ensign’s wrong on the substance. As Matt Yglesias noted, “What Ensign is saying here — that gun accidents and car accidents fully account for the life expectancy gap between the US and other countries — isn’t true.”

Despite today’s bad, albeit unsurprising, news, Democrats still are confident there will be a public option in the final bill. Indeed, The Hill.com quotes Sen. Tom Harkin (of Iowa) in a radio interview saying that he has enough votes right now to pass a bill that includes a public option:

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said that the Senate “comfortably” has a majority of votes to pass the public plan, and that he believes Democrats can muster 60 votes to break a filibuster.

“I have polled senators, and the vast majority of Democrats — maybe approaching 50 — support a public option,” Harkin said told the liberal “Bill Press Radio Show.” “So why shouldn’t we have a public option? We have the votes.

“I believe we’ll have the 60 votes, now that we have the new senator from Massachusetts, to at least get it on the Senate floor,” Harkin later added. “But once we cross that hurdle, we only need 51 votes for the public option. And I believe there are, comfortably, 51 votes for a public option.”

Speaking of funny, Media Matters discovers that “more Americans believe in UFOs than oppose a public option.” (Emphasis is in original.)

As health insurance reform makes its way through congress, it’s easy to observe the partisan fighting in Washington and believe the country is deeply divided over a “public option.”

Luckily, that is not the case. Americans love choices. They want the opportunity to choose to purchase a public health insurance plan.

A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that 65% favored a public option, with only 26% opposed to it.

To put that number in perspective: a 2007 Associated Press/Ipsos poll found that 34% of Americans believe in UFOs.

It speaks volumes about the status of the health care debate among the public when it is more mainstream to believe aliens are flying around in spaceships than to oppose the public option.

Finally, Robert Creamer writes at The Huffington Post about “the growing momentum for [a] public option.”

Author: KATHY KATTENBURG

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26 Comments

  1. “A few thoughts here. First, Ensign seemed to be making the case for gun control and expanded investment in public transportation.”

    No, he's not. That's an extremely flawed interpretation of the point Ensign was trying to make. Specifically, pointing out some of the negatives of high gun and car ownership does not imply that high gun and car ownership is worse overall than low gun and car ownership. Accidents are not the only factor to consider when debating gun control laws and public transportation.

    “Second, Ensign also said the U.S. does better than European countries on cancer survival rates.That’s not true.”

    It is true. The linked article doesn't dispute it. The link argues that even though the US does better in cancer survival rates, it's not because we don't have socialized medicine (that's arguable, but besides the point.) I don't know exactly what Ensign said in regards to the cancer survival rates, but it is true that “the U.S. does better than European countries on cancer survival rates”.

    “And third, unless Ensign has a plan to eliminate shootings and car accidents, I’m not sure what he hopes to prove with his observation.”

    His observation is to point out that life-expectancy numbers are an imperfect (at best) measure of a health care system, since there are many important factors in life-expectancy that are outside the control of the health care system.

    “Update: And fourth, in case it wasn’t clear, Ensign’s wrong on the substance. As Matt Yglesias noted, “What Ensign is saying here — that gun accidents and car accidents fully account for the life expectancy gap between the US and other countries — isn’t true.””

    That might be true, but certainly differences in lifestyle could account for the life expectancy difference. Life expectancy in the US is 6 years lower than the best nation. Considering that is it well known that Americans have a generally less health life-style than other nations (and in case it is not well known, here's a link: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_obe-healt…), it seems reasonable to suggest that perhaps a large part of that is lifestyle, not health care quality.

  2. 61% of the democrats supported one proposal, 77% of democrats supported the other,they got a ways to go.

  3. Can someone please list senators opposing the public plan and the contributions they have received from the private health industry lobbyists?

    That list would explain in simple numbers what really is going on in Washington.

    As to the above arguments, “if we didn't die so often, our life expectancy would equal Europe's” is a lame attempt at rationalizing the status quo. That status quo is killing our economy, destroying individual's financial futures, and cost American business billions in trade. Are you sure you fiscal conservatives know what your talking about?

  4. Thats a reasonable request HemmD, but you should also call for a list of those supporting it and their contributions from the industry for a comparison.

    Here is something that might fit the bill somewhat:

    http://www.opencongress.org/money_trail

  5. Here is healthcare services

    Sen. Hillary Clinton [D, NY]
    $135,938
    Sen. John McCain [R, AZ]
    $109,080
    Sen. Max Baucus [D, MT]
    $40,950
    Sen. Mary Landrieu [D, LA]
    $23,100
    Sen. Joseph Biden [D, DE]
    $20,480
    Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR]
    $16,800
    Sen. Thomas Harkin [D, IA]
    $16,700
    Sen. Saxby Chambliss [R, GA]
    $14,700
    Sen. John Rockefeller [D, WV]
    $12,650
    Sen. Lamar Alexander [R, TN]
    $12,550

    Rep. Aaron Schock [R, IL-18]
    $16,350
    Rep. Niki Tsongas [D, MA-5]
    $16,100
    Rep. Steny Hoyer [D, MD-5]
    $12,600
    Rep. James Himes [D, CT-4]
    $12,400
    Rep. C.A. Ruppersberger [D, MD-2]
    $12,200
    Rep. Randy Neugebauer [R, TX-19]
    $11,500
    Rep. Charles Rangel [D, NY-15]
    $9,300
    Rep. Lynn Woolsey [D, CA-6]
    $9,100
    Rep. John Barrow [D, GA-12]
    $8,600
    Rep. Dana Rohrabacher [R, CA-46]
    $8,600

  6. Here is Pharmaceutical manufacturing:

    Name Amount Received
    Sen. Hillary Clinton [D, NY]
    $331,824
    Sen. John McCain [R, AZ]
    $305,888
    Sen. Max Baucus [D, MT]
    $108,720
    Sen. Mitch McConnell [R, KY]
    $104,650
    Sen. Arlen Specter [D, PA]
    $89,900
    Sen. Christopher Dodd [D, CT]
    $60,200
    Sen. John Cornyn [R, TX]
    $24,200
    Sen. John Reed [D, RI]
    $22,100
    Sen. Frank Lautenberg [D, NJ]
    $21,500
    Sen. Mark Warner [D, VA]
    $19,450

    Rep. Ronald Paul [R, TX-14]
    $37,569
    Rep. Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8]
    $36,650
    Rep. Mark Kirk [R, IL-10]
    $23,300
    Rep. Patrick Murphy [D, PA-8]
    $19,400
    Rep. Anna Eshoo [D, CA-14]
    $18,950
    Rep. Leonard Lance [R, NJ-7]
    $18,650
    Rep. Elton Gallegly [R, CA-24]
    $17,000
    Rep. Frank Pallone [D, NJ-6]
    $16,400
    Rep. James McGovern [D, MA-3]
    $15,950
    Rep. Jim Gerlach [R, PA-6]
    $15,600

  7. leo
    thanks, but these must be old figures as clinton is no longer a senator.

    your link also shows many other sub groups, ie doctors, pharma, health care prioducts, etc.

    It would really help if totals were calculated. The people in power on both sides get millions all told, and you know as well as I, that kind of money tilts the game before it's ever played. Left, Right, or Center, how do you like your legislators beholding to special interests? I take it as an insult to the US form of government.

  8. The numbers are from 2008.

  9. Here is something that did get passed.

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALe

    the committee agreed late Tuesday to a measure that would require lawmakers to shop for insurance within new state purchasing exchanges the bill would set up. The measure's author, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said it was only fair that if their constituents had to enter the exchanges, lawmakers should too.

    Now thats refreashing.

  10. How do you like your legislators beholding to special interests?

    What else could they be beholden to? General disinterest?

  11. J

    You know better, how about the general public interest. That's why they're there.

    Cute on your part by half.

  12. Hemm, there are too many issues for any of us to stay up on, much less to agitate for, so we tend to prioritize on the few that affect us most and stay silent and uninformed about all the rest. We're part of special interests occasionally, general disinterest the rest of the time, and there's very little in between.

    Special interest groups will usually get their way over an uninvolved majority, simply because they're trying harder. That's the nature of politics; to will it to be some other way doesn't make any sense.

    But it should come as heartening news to public option zealots. The vast majority are as apathetic as usual on health care, so long as you don't threaten them with socialism on one hand or taking away their medicare on the other. The progressive special interest group may yet get its way.

  13. If you were to lose your job today or tomorrow, who would pay for you and your families’ healthcare bills? The economy is in shambles and jobs are going under left and right, and that is precisely why we need healthcare reform now, so that if a person or family does happen to lose their job and healthcare, One would still be able to receive and/or obtain affordable healthcare. What is wrong with that?

  14. J
    ” But it should come as heartening news to public option zealots. The vast majority are as apathetic as usual on health care, so long as you don't threaten them with socialism on one hand or taking away their medicare on the other. The progressive special interest group may yet get its way.”

    Or the millions spent by PIs will turn enough influential legislators to guarantee that their interests, profit and maintaining an economic monopoly, will win out.

    If you're content with the best government money can buy, there's no way I'll convince you that “voting for dollars” is not what the founding fathers were advocating.

  15. baca, most of the current proposals won't go into effect in time to help people who are losing jobs in the current recession. So, why shouldn't the priority be to get the economy back on track and promote job creation, so that we don't have so many unemployed people who face the consequences of not only loss of healthcare, but complete loss of income?

  16. Ironically, the PI special interest group is finding common cause with the union special interest group, since neither wants to disrupt the nice health benefits unions negotiated so hard for. It's not as black-and-white as “public interest vs money.”

    In fact I'm not content with the best government money can buy, but the federal government–and state government, and many cities–is too large scale to work any other way. This is precisely the case for less government.

  17. You know better, how about the general public interest. That's why they're there.

    Yes and no, depends on what you mean by general public interest. The general public interest of their State, or the general public interest of the United States. I think you will find some of both, but the two while not totally mutually exclusive are not mutually inclusive either. In cases where the two are indeed mutually exclusive a case can be made for both the State and the national being their primary responsibility.

  18. Although some, or many, on this site would try (and fail) to claim otherwise, “general” or “public interest” is not defined by the liberal Democrats, “progressives,” and politically similar “public interest” groups, et cetera.

    The public option got shot down hard in the Senate recently. It is not dead but obviously the childish expectations for meeting any excessive demands (in the form of a “robust” or “strong” or any other word such as “substantial”) public option have once again been put in their correct place — down.

  19. J
    ” In fact I'm not content with the best government money can buy, but the federal government–and state government, and many cities–is too large scale to work any other way.”

    Self fulfilling status quo. You certainly keep the conserve in conservative.

  20. CS
    “baca, most of the current proposals won't go into effect in time to help people who are losing jobs in the current recession. So, why shouldn't the priority be to get the economy back on track and promote job creation, so that we don't have so many unemployed people who face the consequences of not only loss of healthcare, but complete loss of income?”

    Not so.

    Obama famously included McCain's idea of emergency support for the unemployed. Besides, the argument once the economy is rolling again will be that reform will drag down the new surge in the economy.

    Reform will be fought as long as money is at stake for the PIs and their paid for senators.

  21. Self fulfilling status quo. You certainly keep the conserve in conservative.

    You flatter me to suggest what I want has some bearing on the situation. My point is that it doesn't. National politics is dominated by large groups, large groups run on money. All the layers of campaign finance laws have failed to bring about any other reality, nor will more layers.

  22. So relax and enjoy the criminal quid pro quo of Washington politics. Glad your belief didn't hold sway at the time of the Revolution. Looks like you've become too sophisticated for that corny Constitution thing. I was worried, but I'll just learn to accept the subversion and learn to be comfortable with it like you.

  23. Hemm, you keep missing this point, but I'm not relaxed about it at all. I don't like it. Which is why I oppose liberal proposals for campaign finance reforms that have not worked and cannot conceivably work. The beast is what it is. What will work is not giving it ever-more-control over our lives.

  24. You keep hitting it on the head of the nail, brother.
    Keep it up!

  25. “The beast is what it is. What will work is not giving it ever-more-control over our lives.”

    The sad, when not sickening, thing, is that so many want it to have even more control over our lives.

    To what extent they want it to control their lives specifically (exchanging liberty for security) and to what extent they relish the takeover of others' lives instead (which is pathological, but is common) is an open question still.

    The ironic thing is that of course, these people are inconsistent. Michigan is one example of this, currently, where it has a hopelessly obsolescent, bloated, dysfunctional government headquartered in Lansing (though it is Albany and New York that normally is synonymous in this nation with “dysfunctional” and all the other pejoratives). Government here is long overdue for a great, great down-sizing and rationalization. This is particuarly true given how much so many people here (and in Blue Nation elsewhere, particularly) want residual state sovereignty reduced even more and even more power concentrated and centralized in Washington, DC, instead. Michigan and many states are overdue for huge reductions in size and scope of their state governments, including changing to a unicameral legislature as Nebraska has had, for example. But this is fought tooth and fang and claw.

    [sigh]

  26. C Stanley: I really believe we can do both at one time. The insurance companies have milked us for too long. Every time you turn around Premiums are going up and coverage gets less. This cannot continue. Where greed rules, one cannot get a fair play.

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