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Posted by on Sep 29, 2009 in Health, Politics, Society | 26 comments

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 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.”