I haven't been writing much about the healthcare bill in Congress right now - I've been writing about this issue for months now, and all that happens is that it gets uglier and messier. A grind. Frankly, I have no idea how staffers and lobbyists deal with the schedule, the endless bickering, the soul-sucking compromises.
In the Senate, of course, the public option was dropped in favor of Medicare expansion. Which, well, I would take as a start towards "Medicare for all." But then Joe Lieberman stepped in, and they dropped the Medicare buy-in. And now, thankfully, Bernie Sanders says he won't vote for the bill without the public option or Medicare expansion. Howard Dean's also speaking out against the legislation:
If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current health-care bill. Any measure that expands private insurers' monopoly over health care and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real health-care reform. Real reform would insert competition into insurance markets, force insurers to cut unnecessary administrative expenses and spend health-care dollars caring for people. Real reform would significantly lower costs, improve the delivery of health care and give all Americans a meaningful choice of coverage. The current Senate bill accomplishes none of these.
FDL's Jon Walker has a nice post on the reasons why a lot of us feel the Senate bill unacceptable, and why killing it is a good strategy. Read it. It's pretty much how I feel about this thing. I see the bill as fatally flawed, offering the wrong incentives, mandating that individuals purchase deeply flawed and expensive health insurance that may not cover their healthcare anyway.
There are progressives who do still support the bill. John Podesta:
The Senate health care bill is not without its problems. But if enacted, it would represent the most significant public reform of our health care system that Congress has passed in the 40 plus years I have worked in politics. The bill will give health care coverage to a record 31 million Americans who are currently uninsured, lay a foundation that will begin to lower costs for millions of families, and provide all Americans with the access to adequate and dependable coverage when they need it most.
So, we've talked a lot about what the bill is not. It's not structural reform. What is it, then? At the end of the day, it's a big bleeping social welfare program -- the largest social welfare program to be implemented since the Great Society. And that's really what it's been all along: fundamental reform like single-payer or Wyden-Bennett was never really on the table. The bill comes very close, indeed, to establishing what might be thought of as a right to access to health care: once it's been determined that people with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied health care coverage, and that working class people ought to receive assistance so that they can afford health care coverage, it will be very hard to remove those benefits. It's the sort of opportunity that comes around rarely -- and one that liberals will greatly regret if they turn down.
(By the way, as I understand the bill, most of us will not enjoy the protections against pre-existing conditions, lifetime caps, etc. Most employer-based insurance won't be subject to those new regulations in the near future, although I believe they will eventually be rolled into those provisions.)
That's an argument that's hard to ignore. A greatly flawed bill will actually help millions. Still, I don't think that argument is enough to have progressives go belly-up at the kind of egregious deal-making that's currently going on in the Senate. Hopefully Senator Sanders will stand firm and find a few friends, and force this bill to improve.
My friend Jay Stevens wrote a while ago that his problem with the excise tax was that it penalized spending on healthcare and that we should be happy to encourage people to spend more on healthcare. If healthcare actually improved health, I'd be inclined to agree that it is worth subsidizing. But the correlations are relatively weak (and the odds that hospitalization can hurt or kill you are unfortunately high). Under these circumstances, reducing healthcare spending and allowing ourselves to spend more money on other things (perhaps sporting equipment or healthy local food, both of which can be expensive but would do more in general to improve health than more heart surgeons) would be a good thing.
I wrote a lengthy post on this subject before, but some of its essential points are worth repeating.
Insurance companies have for years sought to discourage policy holders from seeing their doctors by using low-end policies with high deductibles and higher out-of-pocket costs associated with preliminary doctor vists. The premise -- and Matt gets at this, too -- is that consumers, if allowed, would opt for expensive and unnecessary medical procedures, driving up the cost for their treatment. Insurance companies, by throwing road blocks between consumers and their doctors, goes the theory, cuts down on wasteful healthcare spending.
This is one of Ezra Klein's favorite lines of reasoning: because people don't understand how much their insurance actually costs -- employers a large portion of the costs -- they are less likely to consume rationally. And while that's true for, say, selecting prescription medicine, it's actually an illogical argument because people aren't rational consumers of healthcare to begin with.
Simply put, we don't like to visit the doctor. Giving people an economic incentive to avoid seeing their doctor only gives them permission to do so. Minor illnesses turn serious, and expensive. Malcolm Gladwell eviscerated this argument years ago in his piece, "The Moral Hazard Myth," which is well worth a read.
The problem, of course, isn't consumers. We're not choosing unnecessary procedures. We do what our doctor tells us. Our doctors, on the other hand, have a distinct economic incentive to give us procedures instead of care -- and Atul Gawande already covered this in his New Yorker piece, "The Cost Conundrum." Doctors get paid by what treatments they give to patients. Therefore, they give lots of treatments.
The answer is twofold: easy access for consumers to their doctors, and a payment system that pays doctors for seeing patients, not treating them. Good, affordable insurance and salaried doctors, say.
So, yeah, I'm not crazy about an excise tax on benefits. We've been down the road of discouraging patients from seeing their doctors, and it's only helped drive healthcare costs higher.
I have a moral objection to paying for any kind of erectile dysfunction medicine in the new health reform bill and I think men who want to use it should just pay for it out of pocket. After all, I won't ever need such a pill. And anyway, it's no biggie. Just because most of them can get it under their insurance today doesn't mean they shouldn't have it stripped from their coverage in the future because of my moral objections. (I don't think there's even been a Supreme Court ruling making wood a constitutional right. I might be wrong about that)....
Given the makeup of the SCOTUS, I wouldn't make any bets...
I realize that many people disagree with my moral objections to men getting erections which God clearly doesn't want them to get, but my principles on this are more important to me than theirs are to them. So too bad. If you want a boner, pay for it yourself.
Sure, digby's jokingly responding to the justification behind Stupak amendment, and the House vote disallowing insurance purchased in the health insurance exchange from covering abortion...but, hell! She's got a point! Why does insurance cover Viagra? It's not like it actually affects any urgent medical condition...? And it certainly isn't as critical to men as abortions are to women...
But just as the members of the Republican party look to impose penalties on the rest of us that they don't feel apply to themselves, don't hold your breath that a bunch of old white guys will be preventing private insurers from paying Viagra claims...
Look who voted against the healthcare reform bill in the House, and why!
Rep. Denny Rehberg, who joined all but one of his fellow Republicans in voting "no" Saturday on the major health-reform bill that passed the U.S. House, said the measure is an ill-advised "trillion-dollar government takeover of health care."
Wait, there's more!
"I'm standing with Montanans in favor of sensible reforms that don't simply replace insurance bureaucracies with more expensive government bureaucracies," he said.
Rehberg said he supports a Republican alternative proposal rolled out last week that would allow Americans to buy health insurance across state lines, encourage small-business health insurance pools, increase the use of individual health savings accounts and reform medical liability to reduce the cost of medical-malpractice lawsuits.
Okay...two outright falsehoods in those statements. The House bill is definitely anything but a government takeover of healthcare; and insurance bureaucracies are not more expensive than government bureaucracies. In fact, the opposite is, of course, true.
We're in Beck-ian territory here.
As for the Republican proposal, well, I've written about this stuff before, but buying insurance across state lines will only make insurance less reliable, cover fewer conditions, and cause you more out-of-pocket medical costs; small business insurance pools and individual health accounts don't solve the problem of the uninsured; and tort reform doesn't work, doesn't lower healthcare costs, and gives medical professionals a disincentive to give good care.
In these few words, Rehberg illustrates the difficulties facing progressives and reformers who, like me, are not entirely pleased with a healthcare reform bill that preserves the broken-down insurance status quo and essentially bribes the industry to cover the uninsured. On one hand, we need to pressure Democrats into adopting real and effective policies. On the other hand, Republicans -- and Rehberg now, too, apparently -- are entering crazy land. We can't entrust governance to these people. Things were bad enough under the recent Republican hegemony -- widespread corruption, a broken economy, stagnant wages, wars, the politicization of government, illegal domestic spying, torture -- how much worse would things be under lunatic rule?
Well...the healthcare reform bill passed the House, but not without a gut punch to women.
First, Democrats struck a deal over healthcare to win the support of Catholic bishops by allowing an amendment to reach the House floor that would disallow any insurance passed in the health insurance exchange to cover elective abortion procedures.
Jane Hamsher: "Democrats in Congress have just proudly signed a deal...which allows a bunch of old men who have spent the better part of the last century avoiding their own sexual issues to dictate access to abortion services..." Hamsher rips Planned Parenthood and NARAL for rolling over on this and other women's issues wrapped up in health care reform.
The idea that people are going to go out and purchase separate "abortion plans" is both cruel and laughable. If this amendment passes, it will mean that virtually all women with insurance through the exchange who find themselves in the unwanted and unexpected position of needing to terminate a pregnancy will not have coverage for the procedure. Abortion coverage will not be outlawed in this country. It will simply be tiered, reserved for those rich enough to afford insurance themselves or lucky enough to receive from their employers.
A great day for women, that started off with the Democratic women's caucus being repeatedly shouted down by Republican Congressmen on the House floor.
It's hard to jump and down and cheer for a bill with so many bad compromises in it - how did we get here? In part, I blame the group of "moderate" or "centrist" Democrats who drag their feet on Democratic policies while taking in industry donations. But those Democrats exist and wield power because the Republicans are quickly ceding their role as rational political players. They vote against every piece of legislation in Congress, and refuse to even enter negotiations in crafting legislation. The effect is particularly dire in the Senate, where Republicans so far have filibustered, or threaten to filibuster, nearly every Democratic bill or judicial nomination. As a result, the worst Senators - Lieberman, Baucus, Nelson, Lincoln - are having the most influence on policy.
In fact, the party of Limbaugh and Beck could well make major gains in the midterm elections. The Obama administration's job-creation efforts have fallen short, so that unemployment is likely to stay disastrously high through next year and beyond. The banker-friendly bailout of Wall Street has angered voters, and might even let Republicans claim the mantle of economic populism. Conservatives may not have better ideas, but voters might support them out of sheer frustration.
And if Tea Party Republicans do win big next year, what has already happened in California could happen at the national level. In California, the G.O.P. has essentially shrunk down to a rump party with no interest in actually governing - but that rump remains big enough to prevent anyone else from dealing with the state's fiscal crisis. If this happens to America as a whole, as it all too easily could, the country could become effectively ungovernable in the midst of an ongoing economic disaster.
The point is that the takeover of the Republican Party by the irrational right is no laughing matter. Something unprecedented is happening here - and it's very bad for America.
The $894 billion, 1,990-page health reform bill unveiled by House Democrats last Thursday would repeal CHIP at the end of 2013, shifting millions of kids instead into private plans contained on a proposed health insurance marketplace, dubbed the exchange.
Party leaders have been mostly tight-lipped about their motivations. But a series of factors seem to have driven their decision, according to sources on and off Capitol Hill, including hopes to get family members under the same plan, to centralize control of the state-run CHIP program, and to shift more folks into private coverage to win the support of both the insurance lobby and moderate Democrats.
What th--? How do you justify something like this?
It could strengthen one of the most fundamental parts of the Democratic reform package -- a robust insurance exchange with a pool of participants that's large enough to drive down costs precisely because insurance companies have an incentive to jump in and compete for customers. Moreover, folding CHIP into the exchange would add a younger, healthier pool of participants to the exchange, offsetting its potential of becoming a dumping ground for the sick and elderly. Finally, CHIP has always suffered from under enrollment -- about 6 million children aren't insured in the program who should be -- and by bringing whole families in under the same plan, more children will be covered.
Call me unimpressed with this line of reasoning. Essentially Khimm is arguing that we should offer up the children of the least wealthy Americans to the private insurance industry in hope that they'll lower prices for the rest of us.
Additionally, it's probable that most of these families whose children we'll be thrusting into the private market will need taxpayer subsidies to afford the more expensive private plans for their children, which seems to me to be a much less efficient use of tax dollars, given private insurers' much less efficient coverage. And what about the health of the children under CHIP? CHIP insurance plans actually pay claims to ensure that children get the medical care they need. There's no such guarantee under private plans.
The big piece of news being bandied about today is that our favorite "Democrat" - Joe Lieberman - vows he'll block any healthcare reform bill that includes the public option, as he positions himself, according to the Politico report, to be a "fiscal hawk" on the issue. Even though the CBO has time and time again scored any reform bill that includes a public option lower than bills without it. In fact, the bigger and more inclusive the public option, the lower the cost of reform.
And Harry Reid appears nonplussed about Lieberman's threat.
(Frankly, I would like to see the Senate Democratic leadership pull out the stick for a change. You know, strip Joe of his committee chair and deny him of his appropriations requests, and watch how his lobbyist friends abandon ship. No better way to hurt a Senator like Lieberman than to go after his goody bag.)
And as Lieberman disses the public option, its popularity among voters continues to climb.
No wonder a majority of Americans in a recent WSJ/NBC poll think the US is on the wrong track. And while conservatives are off braying, seeing in the results a rejection of liberal politics, if you look closer at the numbers, it's pretty obvious the reverse is true:
-- Obama's approval rating remains at 51% in the poll, exactly where's it's been for the last few months.
-- 43% approve of the president's handling of health care. For Republicans, it's 23%.
- 42% have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party. For the Republican Party, it's 25%. (Update: The GOP's rating is even worse now than it was during Bush's two terms.)
- On the generic ballot test, respondents favored a Democratic candidate over a GOP candidate, 46% to 38%. A month ago, the margin was only three points in Dems' favor.
- 63% believe the economic problems the White House is dealing with were inherited from the Bush era. That's down from 72% in June, but it's still quite high.
Combine those results with, say, Sarah Palin's popularity, and it's obvious the numbers show that the Republican brand is toxic. That's the real story here. No one scores worse on healthcare than Congressional Republicans. The economy is still seen as a Republican creation. And the likely drop-off in numbers about the direction of the country and the handling of healthcare is likely coming from disillusioned liberals and independents, who see Congress playing politics-as-usual footsies with corporate America.
And politicians know it, too. Those Senators facing tough re-election campaigns are often the public option's biggest boosters. First, it was Alren Specter, who favors a robust and accessible public option. And, more recently, there's Harry Reid, who looks like he's going to include it in the Senate healthcare bill over fears for his approval numbers back home.
The key, now, is to hammer this home, again and again to our elected representatives. Yes, it's work. Yes, it's slow and painful. But, yes, we can move this thing, bit by bit...
Best Ezra Klein analysis I've seen in a long time. And it's framed around this quote from Rep. Anthony Weiner:
What are we trying to protect when we're trying to protect against the destabilization of a system we all agree isn't working and that we think people are trying to leave?
And Klein lists the various contradictory precepts driving healthcare reform, explaining the limping pox-scarred legislation Congress came up with to link all the contradictions. Klein:
You can go on in this vein, of course. It's a bit of a problem. Underlying it is the political insight that people want the system changed but are afraid of rapid changes to their personal situation, and so reformers are trying to build out their reforms such that people can transition to new and better options gradually. The problem with that, of course, is that the reforms won't necessarily have the size or scale to show their power, and many people will be legally prevented from changing over even if they would like to. It's a bit like rolling out a new television, but refusing to sell it to people who own televisions larger than 25 inches. You've lost a big pool of early adopters, which means you might also lose the people who would otherwise follow them.
We've the framework for reform. The next battle: getting access to reform.
So we got a public option in the Senate bill. The bill and its version of the public option is far from perfect - that it's opt-out at the state level is the least of its problems. For one, it'd be available - along with the community standard provisions - to only a handful of consumers. And that's critical, for in order for the public option to be successful it needs to be national, and it needs to be big. Still, if this is the most conservative, weakest version of the public option that could make it to the final Congressional bill - the worst-case scenario, if you will - that's not a bad thing.
Still, that it got in the bill is a huge victory for the progressive activists who fought for it. Huge. Despite being outspent by industry lobbyists, despite not garnering the frenzied media coverage that the Teabaggers did (memo to self: blog while armed), despite the attempts at marginalization by both Congressional and White House Democrats and the open hostility of some single-payer advocates, a lot of good people stirred up a big fuss, and a public option will be in the final bill.
We were wanted for door-knocking and phone-calling and t-shirt-buying and our votes, but we weren't wanted when it came time to craft policy. Well, despite the public option's relative insignificance (compared to say, real health care reform in the form of a single-payer system), we've forced a place a the table. And we're not going away. We'll be there for climate change legislation, immigration reform, bank regulation, Net Neutrality, consumer protection legislation, gay rights, tax reform, and on and on and on.
Ezra Klein today reported that Harry Reid was very close to including a national public option into the healthcare reform bill that would be voted on in the Senate. Until...
...Max Baucus held a meeting.
Here, stories begin to diverge. Depending on who you talk to, Baucus either held a routine, informational meeting telling the Senate moderates and members of the Senate Finance Committee what's going on, as he's been doing fairly regularly, or he held a meeting in which he tried to rally Senate moderates to change Reid's mind. Or maybe there's no difference between the two. The first to really speak out after the meeting was Sen. Ben Nelson, and, as one staffer pointed out, Nelson didn't need Baucus to remind him that he was opposed to a national public option. Soon enough, Olympia Snowe was also making firm statements against the public option, and threatening a filibuster.
Sort of astounding for a Senator who claims to support the public option. In fact, right now, we have to assume that Max Baucus is actively working against the public option.
This week, George Ochenski wrote a pretty d*mning op-ed in the Missoula Independent, accusing state Democrats of lining up to praise Baucus' efforts on healthcare and his bill because of money. Campaign money. Oodles and oodles of cash. And you know what? He's got a point.
But money isn't everything. Votes matter, too. And I guarantee they can't have both Baucus' money and widespread support among voters, especially those of the Democratic base. Because this bill, without a robust, widely-available public option, is going to affect a majority of Montanans' not one single bit, except to raise their premiums. Many, if not most, voters will wake up the day the bill goes into effect, and still find rejected claims due to preexisting conditions in their mailbox along with a stiff little premium hike to cover those the insurers will be forced to cover. (You know how they'll frame it, too. Those "shiftless""irresponsible" ones, the "parasites" who don't take care of their health.) And a lucky few union families will find a nice fat tax hike in their pay stub, too.
The bill without a robust public option is a kind of welfare program for the poor. Which is fine. But it's been framed as healthcare "reform." And when people hear "reform," and want "reform," and you give them something else that's definitely not "reform," you know what their reaction will be.
It will destroy the Democratic party.
So. Montana Democrats. You either stick with Baucus and drive off a political cliff, or you ditch him and find another way to raise money. H*ll, if you come out strong and hard against Baucus and for the public option, raising money probably won't be an issue.
And, frankly, Baucus isn't the only one who appears to be against us. Also from Klein's piece:
On Thursday night, Reid went over to the White House for a talk with the president. The conversation centered on Reid's desire to put Schumer's national opt-out plan into the base bill. White House officials were not necessarily pleased, and they made that known. Everyone agrees that they didn't embrace Reid's new strategy. Everyone agrees that the White House wants Snowe on the bill, feels the trigger offers a safer endgame, and isn't convinced by Reid's math. But whether officials expressed a clear preference for the trigger, or were just worried about the potential for 60 votes, is less clear. One staffer briefed on the conversation says "the White House basically told us, 'We hope you guys know what you're doing.'"
Frankly, I hope the White House knows what it's doing. Because from here, it looks like they're pushing for the clusterf*ck.
The warning bell for timid Democrats from Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen:
Our polling continues to find that the problem for Democrats right now isn't so much that people are switching sides to the Republicans, but that D voters have become sort of complacent/disengaged. There is no greater threat to the party next year than for its voters to feel like getting in power in 2006 and 2008 hasn't accomplished anything, and that their votes didn't really make a difference in policy making. That's when they stay home. So the impact on turnout next year that not doing something meaningful on health care could have is to my mind the greater risk for Democrats right now.
Let's see. The public option. It saves money for reform, even helps reduce the deficit over time. It promises reliable, affordable insurance that will help keep costs down. It's wildly popular. (With sixty-one percent in a CNN poll.)
And if you don't pass it, your base will turn on you.
Okay. We all know the public option is wildly popular.
Fifty-seven percent of those polled favor it, only 40 percent oppose. Support for the public option shoots up to seventy-six percent if states run the public option, and it's available only to those who have no option for private insurance. In that case, even 56 percent of Republicans favor it. Additionally, 51 percent prefer the public option, even if Republicans don't support. A meager 37 percent prefers a bipartisan bill without the public option. Independents prefer a public option to bipartisanship on a 52/32 percent clip.
But what's surprising is when you compare those numbers to approval of healthcare reform overall, in which only 45 percent support it, while 48 percent oppose it. That's right, the public option is +11 over the reform package as a whole! More intriguing, 56 percent of those polled favor an insurance mandate. And if subsidies are provided for "lower-income" consumers, support jumps to 71 percent! (In fact, that jump so violates DC Conventional Wisdom on healthcare reform, that Kevin Drum called out for some help in showing the numbers were the result of how the poll questions were asked.)
Add that data to the low confidence Americans have in the Republican party - only 19 percent said they had "confidence" in the GOP to make "right decisions" for the country - and Obama's approval rating (57 percent), what I take away from this data isn't that Americans are uneasy about healthcare reform from conservative, Teabagger-like concerns, but because the legislation isn't progressive enough.
That, of course, runs counter to how moderate Democrats have reacted to polling data and Teabagger protests. What it's beginning to look like is that the traditional media - and jumpy Dems by proxy - was punked this summer: it wildly inflated Teabagger protests and charted them against declining support for healthcare reform, thinking the two related. Instead, it's looking like Democratic and independent voter defection that's driving support down.
In short, any moderate backing off the public option for fear of a public backlash is making an egregious mistake.
The New York Times: "In the debate over health care reform, no issue has produced more fury and sound bites than the question of whether to include a government-run insurance plan. It is not indispensable, and its role would be limited. Even so, we strongly support inclusion of a public option - the bigger and stronger the better. That is the best way to give consumers more choices, inject more competition into insurance markets, hold down the cost of insurance policies, and save money for the federal budget."
Open Congress put up S.1796 - the Senate Finance Committee's health care legislation - on its site.
Max Baucus thinks a "watered down" version of the public option could get 60 votes in the Senate:
"This issue is alive and we are looking at it to see what makes the most sense," the senator declared on a conference call with reporters. "The major overall goal here though is to get health care reform that passes the Senate, gets 60 votes, and I just don't know if there is 60 votes for the most pure kinds of the public option. There may be 60 votes for the less pure kinds."
The less pure kinds, Baucus explained, were co-ops, a public plan triggered by economic conditions and an insurance structure that allowed states to opt in or out of a public option. He seemed to find the last option the most intriguing.
A. Co-ops and a trigger are not a public option, even "watered down."
B. Why does anyone care what Max Baucus thinks anymore? Frankly, he shouldn't be involved in the creation of the final bill the Senate votes on. His role now is to vote for cloture on whatever bill the leadership crafts.
Be sure to check out "This American Life" and its two-part series on healthcare reform: "Someone Else's Money," on the health insurance industry; and "More is Less," on the reasons behind the rising cost of health care in the US.
Here's the SNL sketch where the "Rock Obama" makes Max Baucus bark like a dog, and then throws him out the window:
I have to admit, I enjoyed watching the Rock rip off Mitch McConnell's arm...heh heh.
...a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that support for a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers has rebounded from its summertime lows and now wins clear majority support from the public....
On the issue that has been a flash point in the national debate, 57 percent of all Americans now favor a public insurance option, while 40 percent are opposed. Support has risen since mid-August, when a bare majority, 52 percent, said they favored it. (In a June Post-ABC poll, support had been at 62 percent.)
Additionally, 56 percent favor an insurance mandate. A full 71 percent favored the mandate -- including a majority of Republicans -- if government subsidies were available for "lower-income families."
Unbelievable that any conversation in Congress wouldn't include a public option.
One of the more interesting numbers from the poll shows that Democratic support for Obama dropped 15 points since mid-September. Essentially, it appears that if numbers are dropping about healthcare reform as it stands in Congress, the wavering is coming from the left, not independents or conservatives.
In short, if Democrats really want to lose a lot of House seats in 2010, they should ditch the public option.
At a meeting last April with corporate lobbyists, aides to President Barack Obama and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) helped set in motion a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, primarily financed by industry groups, that has played a key role in bolstering public support for health care reform.
The role Baucus's chief of staff, Jon Selib, and deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina played in launching the groups was part of a successful effort by Democrats to enlist traditional enemies of health care reform to their side. No quid pro quo was involved, they insist, as do the lobbyists themselves.
...The Democratic officials made no overt demands. Rather, they brought together the players and laid the groundwork for the creation of the coalition, and that was followed by more direct solicitations from an outside Democratic consultant, Nick Baldick, retained by Healthy Economy Now, asking attendees at the meeting to join the coalition and contribute to its ad campaigns.
One ethics expert, however, said the meeting still raises issues. No matter how careful Messina and Selib were to avoid conversation about Healthy Economy Now, their mere presence at what proved to be the coalition's creation raises questions, said Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that advocates for greater transparency and ethics in government.
"There's no problem with sitting down at the table and talking," said Allison. "But if they are signaling that they would really like these groups to support health care reform and trying to tell the groups how they'll benefit from the plan, they're laying a 'quid' on the table, and - even if they don't discuss dollar amounts or advertising strategies - they're suggesting what the 'quo' is, which is the groups' support for the plan."
Basically, in exchange for a $150 million ad campaign, Baucus and the White House promised to make reform friendly to the industries that pitched in.
The websites of Montana's two major parties are intriguing. (OK, so it's cold outside and the internet beckoned.) Neither is particularly current. Each has a sterile consistency.
On the Montana Republican Party website (aka: Republicans), the last post was on June 25, but the big news is the party's convention on June 11, 12 and 13 (2009). Don't miss it. The training sessions look good, especially the one called "Winning Pro-Life Strategies," including a thorough examination of the Personhood Initiative, hosted by Sen. Dan McGee and Rep. Wendy Warburton.
Scroll down on the home page and you find an array of selected articles, each receiving a five-star rating. Kinda wonder who at the party decides how many stars.
Evidently, nothing much about R's is newsworthy. D's, on the other hand, rule the site: Schweitzer; Lindeen; Laslovich; Villa.
Note this headline on June 19: "Republicans plan rival U.S. healthcare plan." So, what have the R's been doing since June, that is, besides tea-bagging? Working on that rival plan. Its exact status is remains unclear. Sort of a stealth plan.
Speaking of healthcare plans, another headline, this one about Max, dated June 16 caught my eye: "Insurance, health interests fill Baucus' coffers." That's news? And, by inference, the R's believe "insurance" and "health interests" are bad? Green with envy.
The "Events" calendar is vacant. No kidding. Preparing that rival plan is totally consuming the party.
All hell broke loose on the 'Tubes when an insurance industry trade group - AHIP - announced plans to release a study showing Congress' healthcare reform would result in rate hikes: an extra $4,000 per family in 2019!
In the hallowed tradition of the tobacco and energy industries, the health insurance industry has commissioned a report (pdf) projecting doom and despair for those who seek to reform its business practices. The report was farmed out to the consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has something of a history with this sort of thing: In the early-'90s, the tobacco industry commissioned PWC to estimate the economic devastation that would result from a tax on tobacco. The report was later analyzed by the Arthur Andersen Economic Consulting group, which concluded that "the cumulative effect of PW's methods ... is to produce patently unreliable results." It's perhaps no surprise that the patently unreliable results were all in the tobacco industry's favor. He who pays the piper names the tune, and all that.
Color me completely unsurprised. Even if this is all a sham intended to derail reform, who doesn't believe the insurance companies won't raise rates? Of course they'll raise rates!
Frankly, I wouldn't expect any less of them. They will raise premiums sky high even if reforms don't pass. They always have before. Indeed, the only thing that kept them in check at all over the past 20 years was a roaring stock market, which allowed them to make huge profits while only gouging their customers at about 15% inflation. Lately, they've had no choice but to jack that up and gouge the sick customers even more. They are, after all, profit driven corporations.
Digby suspects this has something to do with an amendment capping industry tax exemptions for executive salaries at $500K instead of $1M. (Er...we allow companies to deduct executive salaries???) Digby jokes, "Nobody puts CEOs in the corner," and says this:
There has never been a better argument for the public plan than the one the insurance company just handed the Democrats in congress. They have produced a shoddy, self-serving report as a blatant threat to raise premiums higher than they already plan to raise them. If there has ever been a more obvious case of bad faith than this, I haven't seen it. The only thing that will keep these corporate criminals in line is either price controls or stiff competition and if they can't keep their companies solvent without giving their executives outrageous pay packages, charging ridiculous prices while denying care to sick people, then maybe their financial model just doesn't work.
Again, there are good elements of reform apart from the public option. Universal coverage, say, a community standard that prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against the sick. But none of this works, IMHO, without a widely available public option as a safety outlet for American consumers against rising policy costs and increased unreliability of coverage...
In case you missed it, a lot of interesting things happened this week, a lot of them deserving their own posts. But, sadly, there's only so much time in the day...
Just when you thought the issues around the Flathead Lake Boat Crash couldn't get any more asinine, they do.
James Conner has the details of that night's incident - apparently Barkus thought he was heading in the opposite direction than he actually was, and was pulling a u-turn at 45 mph in the dark in treacherous waters when he struck the lake bank. Dan Testa, too, has a good roundup of that night's events - two scotches and an unknown amount of red and white wine for Barkus. Just the thing for a chilly night out on the lake.
Now Barkus' lawyer is challenging the .16 BAC results - which, I know, is his right to do and probably a smart legal maneuver. But Barkus is also planning on finishing out his Senate term, as if nothing's happened here, as if he hadn't just boozed up and almost killed himself and four others on Flathead Lake.
The crash was a good sign he's got a problem, eh? I mean, for most of us, this would be a kind of, I dunno, a wake-up call, wouldn't it?
That's the way I'd see it if it were me. I'd be apologizing my *ss off to the friends and family of those I injured through my loathsome behavior, I'd cooperate with the authorities and plea bargain my way into a just punishment, resign my public office because of the deficiency of my character, and I'd check myself into a rehab clinic, ASAP. I mean, wouldn't most people feel some remorse, and want to repent and work to rehabilitate themselves?
Instead, Barkus is still out there, still a drunk, and, probably as soon as he's walking again, back behind the wheel. And he'll be passing laws over you. So much for personal responsibility.
* * *
As always, there's plenty of news from Hardin.
The Billings Gazette got its hands on the "memorandum of understanding" between Hardin and the APF - which it had to get by court order, apparently because it's pretty embarrassing to Hardin officials - that revealed the city did have an agreement with Hilton's company to have the APF supply Hardin with a police force for $250K. The contract toned the language down, but the memo certainly explains the Hardin Police Force decals on APF SUVs.
But the American Police Force takeover of the Hardin jail only looks dead. While Hardin put the deal with APF on hold after revelations of Michael Hilton's checkered past, a mysterious APF investor stepped forward (anonymously, of course) and noted the firm would still pursue the Hardin jail contract, only without "Captain" Michael Hilton on board.
You voted for him. You walked the streets, knocking on strangers' doors for him. You manned the phone lines for him. Not only because there was a Senator representing the state who was bloated with corruption, but because Jon Tester was one of us, someone who didn't live and breathe politics, a farmer who was as far removed from DC as you could be. Someone who promised to be a progressive populist, looking out for our concerns.
So. Where did he go? We haven't heard a peep from Jon on healthcare. Well, except for the news that jhwygirl related, as reported in Roll Call, that he - and Schweitzer - are concerned about the share of the Medicare expansion that states are expected to bear, and will lobby Baucus to have that provision struck from his bill. (And while Republican Senators have adopted that concern as their new means to oppose any and all reform efforts, it's actually a legitimate concern, especially for small states like Montana.)
But what we want to hear about is Jon's stance on the public option. Where does Jon Tester stand on the public option? Based on the usual fare we get from Tester's office, who can say?
A spokesman for Sen. Jon Tester said the public option makes sense to Tester, but Montana's junior senator "wants to make sure whatever the Senate does is right for Montana."
"Jon isn't ruling out supporting a public option, as long as it's done right so that it works for Montana families and small businesses," said Tester spokesman Patrick Devlin. "He knows that our health care system is badly broken and the status quo is the worst option on the table for working families."
We are left knowing less than before.
As Yellowstone Kelly pointed out today, Democrats have really scr*wed themselves with their lukewarm (at best) approach to reform and public policy. Hiding from healthcare reform is only going to hurt Jon Tester in 2012. On the other hand, with Democrats and independents overwhelmingly supporting a public option, seizing the issue and advocating for it can only benefit Montana's junior Senator.
Oh, and supporting the public option is the right thing to do.
And I'm glad to see that Health Care for America Now is asking Jon to sign a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he ensure a public option is contained in the healthcare reform bill that passes the Senate.
As we finalize health reform legislation, we shouldn't forget that a majority of Americans, doctors, and Members of Congress support a public option. Four out of five congressional committees passed health reform legislation that includes a strong public option. We owe it to hardworking families, small businesses, and taxpayers to pass a public option that lowers costs and ensures much-need competition in the insurance industry.