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Take It To The Floor (Bill)

14 October 2009

The Baucus bill passed The Senate Finance Committee yesterday by a vote of 14-9.  This was in part made possible by an unlikely advocate; the Senator from Maine, Olympia Snowe.  She became the first Republican to support a Democratic Healthcare Bill.

Senator Olympia Snowe

Senator Olympia Snowe

“I think it’s critical to move this bill along and see how far we can go and it’s going to be a step by step journey”, said Snowe.

Though the idea of slowly gaining bipartisan support is comforting, it is hard to ignore the major holes in the ‘reform’ package that this committee has stamped with a seal of approval.

This bill costs $829 billion dollars over the next decade while not adding to the current deficit, does not provide an efficient method of keeping private insurance costs low, requires all American citizens have health insurance, imposes a fine if a citizen does not have insurance, ends the denial of applicants based on pre-existing conditions,  outlines a non-federal health care ‘co-op’, and supplies subsidies for low and middle income individuals to purchase insurance.  Most importantly, if this bill were to become law as it is written today – it would cause insurance premiums to increase by leaps and bounds.  In short, despite a few items that would be good for Americans, it is a gift to the private insurance companies of America.  It guarantees that among them, they will have 300 million customers at whatever rate they choose to charge.

One thing I believe is lacking in this bill is a “Public Option.”  A public option would essentially mean that the federal government would enter the insurance market by providing it’s own healthcare packages.  In this way, competitive costs could be moderated and kept in line with economic factors of the time.  It would stop private insurance companies from irrationally inflating their premiums, as they have already threatened to do in response to the passing of the Baucus bill.

Public Option

Public Option

A common suggestion made to counter the idea of a public option is that we might open our insurance markets across state lines.  Though I understand the underlying theory behind the idea, I fail to see how doing so would adequately help control costs.  So far as I can tell, Insurance companies are already in every state market; Aetna, AON Corporation Group, AMS, Assurant Health Services, Unicare.  These five companies either directly run or have their hands in every health related insurance company in the United States.  How does removing borders increase competition?  There are still five companies setting premiums.

A public option would allow individuals to purchase healthcare packages from the federal government and in doing so have access to any hospital, any doctor, anywhere, anytime.  Okay, maybe that is a bit lofty. After bureaucracy had its way with a real public option it would most likely require seeing someone similar to the UK’s “Gate Keepers” before you could see a healthcare professional.  If you fear government involvement in healthcare decisions, and I completely understand if you do, a public option is exactly what the name suggests – an option.  Short of following Japan’s model of government strictly regulating medical equipment and procedure costs, I believe a public option is the best way to keep private insurance costs low.  Thankfully, the two other bills on the table include strong public options.

Another thing I wish I had seen in the bill is a subsidy for technological advances in the medical industry.  For example – According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year 90,000 people die from bacterial infection in hospitals.  This statistic bleeds over into lengthening hospital stays, growing medical bills, medical malpractice suits, end-of-life planning costs, etc.  Accidental bacterial infection is one example of how technology can reduce fatalities and medical costs.  The video below demonstrates the worlds first automatic self-sterilizing computer keyboard.

In addition to these technological upgrades, our healthcare system could utilize a kind of national hospital network which would allow a user to see statistics related to their hospital of choice.  This kind of transparency would create an atmosphere of competition amongst hospitals, further reducing costs and improving the quality of care.  FloridaCompareCare.gov could serve as a good starting model.  The first day the comparative website launched it received over 70,000 hits and is now averaging 2,000 a day.

Uncle Sam waiting for reform

Uncle Sam waiting for reform

One more thing among many that I hope to see in a healthcare reform bill; nationally recognized partnership benefits.  It seems to many people in the homosexual community that the issue of equal rights has been regularly shoved aside in order to tackle more pressing issues.  While I understand the urgency of many other matters, I can’t help but wonder what good healthcare reform is if my partner and I can not share our insurance plan because 43 states do not recognize same-sex marriages.  While some private insurers have domestic-partnership programs, it should be included in the legislation that all legal citizens of this country may include anyone with whom they share an address.  All people, regardless of background, should be entitled to as many outlets for effective and affordable healthcare as possible.

However, the finance committee’s approval of the Baucus bill is encouraging.  Our elected officials have been sitting atop a snowy hilltop for months and they’ve finally gathered the strength to form a small snowball.  Hopefully, it will gain enough volume and momentum to knock the insurance industry’s greed to the ground.

Reform seems more likely now than ever.  The next step in the process is to reconcile this bill with what is known as the HELP bill, which includes a public option, to create the floor bill.  This process begins today behind the closed doors of majority leader Senator Harry Reid‘s office.

If you believe in a public option, it is more important now than ever to support it.  I’ve included contact information below; every phone call and every email makes a difference in this closely contested battle.

The Office of Senator Harry Reid
528 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-3542 / Fax: 202-224-7327

Click here to send an email

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