Compromise Is Not Reform

The healthcare debate has been hijacked — and not by Republicans and conservative tea-baggers screaming about death panels.

So-called moderates (Blue Dog Democrats and Republican Susan Collins of Maine), in attempting to craft a compromise with the healthcare industry, have essentially allowed the industry to control the parameters of a debate that should have made much of what the industry does irrelevant.

We have gone from what might have been a workable proposal that could have taken us down the road toward a public, single-payer plan to a toothless set of state cooperatives unlikely to pose even the slightest threats to the health insurance industry.

It’s no wonder that Wendell Potter, former communications executive at healthcare giant Cigna, told the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee that any compromise bill that “fails to create a public insurance option to compete with private insurers — might as well be called the Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act.” (

And this was before Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who heads up the Senate Finance Committee, unveiled the kind of compromise Potter was warning lawmakers about.

The Baucus plan, unveiled Sept. 16, includes some positive elements: an extension of Medicaid to cover more low-income people, subsidies that will help consumers buy insurance and a cap on out-of-pocket expenses.

What it doesn’t include — and what any plan short of single-payer had to include — is a public plan that would compete directly with the insurers, one that is large enough to provide the kind of economies of scale needed to drive down costs.

Instead, it includes what the New York Times described as “private, nonprofit health insurance cooperatives to compete with private insurers. The coops, the Times said, “would offer their coverage plans on (state) exchanges and would have to meet the same requirements as private insurers.”

The distinction, which might seem minor, isn’t. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), in a statement issued shortly after Baucus announced his plan ( and Rockefeller’s Web site), said the “co-op model is untested and unsubstantiated — and should not be considered as a national model for health insurance.”

The co-ops studied by the federal government, Rockefeller said, “operate and function just like private health insurance companies” and “There is no evidence that co-ops would bring costs down or make insurance more affordable.”

“I have said all along that we need a public plan option in health care reform to drive down the insurance costs that are pummeling working families,” Rockefeller said. “I urge my colleagues to seriously consider this troubling new information before hanging their hats — and most importantly the livelihoods of millions of Americans — on an untested concept. We can do better.”

What Rockefeller didn’t point out is that Baucus has received more than $2 million in contributions from various healthcare-related industries over the last four years. And other so-called moderate Democrats also have received significant funding from the same industries. Baucus has dismissed the connection, but his willingness to play ball with the industry speaks for itself.

What is more troubling, however, is that President Barack Obama seems more concerned with appeasing the Blue Dogs than with creating a healthcare system that will solve the nation’s problems.

Richard Trumka, the new president of the AFL-CIO, said in his acceptance speech that the public option was necessary “to keep private insurers honest, to press them to lower their costs and premiums, and to increase competition in states where a handful of insurers dominate.” (New York Times)

The co-ops will not do that.

“We’ve all heard those who’ve said that we ought to be satisfied with a health care reform plan that doesn’t include a public option,” he said. “They seem to think that we ought to settle for whatever bill a few Republicans will sign on to, declare it a victory and go home.

“What they need to learn,” he said, “is that there’s a difference between declaring a victory — and actually winning one. And they need to learn something else, too: a plan without a public option may be a lot of things, but it sure as hell isn’t reform.”

And we’re likely to be left without the reform we need, unless we step up the pressure.

Hank Kalet is a poet and an editor with The Princeton Packet newspaper group. Email; blog,

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2009

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