Republicans Are Irrelevant to Health Care Reform

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted for the weakest of the five health care bills passed by Congressional committees. Big deal. If the bill that goes to the Senate floor is weak enough for her to vote for, then the insurance companies will win and the American people will lose.

When Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) emerges from private meetings with Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Obama administration officials, led by chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, the bill needs to have a strong public option or the insurance companies will carry out their threat to raise everyone’s premiums, leading to an angry electorate in 2010.

Democrats can cry foul all they want when the insurance industry threatens to raise rates, but if the final bill looks like the Finance Committee bill, higher premiums are inevitable.

Why? It is simple economics. Many of the reforms, such as covering people with pre-existing conditions, could cost the insurance companies more money. The insurance companies will say that if they have to insure people that are already sick, they will need more revenue. Without competition, the insurance companies will continue to fudge the numbers and control insurance costs.

Let’s face it, the Republican Party is afraid that they will be irrelevant for a long time if the Democrats deliver anything close to universal health care; the best case for them is a bill that has reforms, but doesn’t cut costs. They then get to say ‘we told you so’ to the millions of Americans who will be angry because their premiums went up. They will be able to say ‘we told you so’ to the young people who are forced to pay fines because they choose not to purchase a health care plan because they can’t afford one.

The Solution

It’s simple really, and most Democrats get it: provide real competition with a strong ‘Public Option.’ The ideal plan would be to let everyone buy into Medicare. Since this is not in any of the five bills that passed committee, it will not happen.

The next best option is for the House to pass the strongest public option possible, and for the Senate to pass a bill that includes the public option that is in the HELP Committee bill. When they go to conference, let the House negotiators prevail and use the reconciliation route to get the conference report through the Senate.

Using this route will require no Republican support, and leave the ‘party of no’ on the wrong side of history once again. It will benefit the American people and will be smart politics for the Democratic Party.

Finance Committee Bipartisan Route

If the Democrats choose to continue the bipartisan charade and pass a bill similar to the legislation that Senator Snowe voted for, it won’t just be the lack of a public option that will be the wrong prescription. According to USAction, a health care advocacy group, the bill is flawed in five key areas:

USAction Program Director Alan Charney said the legislation voted out of the Senate Finance Committee is unacceptable as a final reform bill for five reasons:

  • It lets employers off the hook. The Senate should adopt the HELP Committee’s requirement that employers who have 25 or more employees should pay a reasonable share of their employees’ health coverage.
  • It is unaffordable, particularly for those who do not get health insurance through their employer or are unemployed. It will require the typical family to pay thousands of dollars more each year just to maintain their coverage. The Senate should adopt the affordability credits and benefits package in the HELP bill.
  • It lacks a public option. The Senate HELP bill gives consumers the choice of a public option, so that they are not left at the mercy of private insurance companies’ high prices and bad practices. Even worse, the Finance Committee bill requires consumers to buy insurance from private companies.
  • It is not inclusive. The Senate Finance bill does not cover many immigrants and it does not fully fund reproductive health care.
  • It raises revenue the wrong way. The Senate Finance bill taxes higher-cost health care benefits, which would hurt many middle-income families. Instead of this approach, the Senate should raise needed revenue to pay for quality, affordable health care by taxing the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Let us hope the private negotiations going on in the Senate majority leader’s office result is a bill similar to the HELP Committee’s version. If it doesn’t, and the Democrats continue the politically stupid Baucus route to reform, Harry Reid should be replaced by a majority leader who will lead and stop compromising. The Republican Party is irrelevant, and the needs of the American people must be put before the insurance industry. What does the insurance industry really provide? Why should we care about an industry that provides nothing and profits on death? And who cares about working with a political party that always says no to the poor and middle class? I guess the rich do, but, the last time I checked, health care is fine for them.

I really hope the Democrats get it. I hope this attempt at getting bipartisan support was all show, and the Democrats stop worrying about getting GOP support. The label “party of no” is not new for them. They opposed FDR’s New Deal (including Social Security), Johnson’s Great Society (including Medicare).

Republican support is not needed, and, at this point, let them be on the wrong side of history as they have been on most great reform legislation.