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Monday, December 07, 2009

The Senate On Obamacare- From Dumb To Dumber to Dumbest

Dumb- First it was a government run "Public Option" to which recently Joe Lieberman spilled the beans in an interview that to many Democrats that was the lead-in to a single payer agenda.

Why is he adamant? Mr. Lieberman says that while he is not "a conspiratorial person," he believes the public option is intended as a way for the government to take over health care. "I've been working for health-care reform in different ways since I arrived here," he says. "It was always about how do we make the system more efficient and less costly, and how do we expand coverage to people who can't afford it, and how do we adopt some consumer protections from the insurance companies . . . So where did this public option come from?" It was barely a blip, he says, in last year's presidential campaign.

"I started to ask some of my colleagues in the Democratic caucus, privately, and two of them said "some in our caucus, and some outside in interest groups, after the president won such a great victory and there were more Democrats in the Senate and the House, said this is the moment to go for single payer.'" So, I joke, the senator is, in fact, as big a "conspiracy theorist" as me. He laughingly rejoins: "But I have evidence!"

Mr. Lieberman notes that the public option serves no other purpose: "It doesn't help one poor person get insurance who doesn't have it now. It doesn't compel one insurance company to provide insurance to somebody who has an illness. And . . . it doesn't do anything to reduce the cost of insurance."

Dumber- Then Harry Reid, much to the dismay of the White House and the bipartisan Senate committee that spent months reaching a compromise they believed could pass the Senate, decided, on his own, to introduce an "opt-out" plan, where there would be a government run insurance program (the public option) but individual states could opt-out of it.

That had very limited support, and Reid, who is trying to save his own political career heading into an election year where he is trailing two of the Republican challengers for his Senate seat in the polls, is believed to have pushed for it simply so that he could tell his constituents he "tried".

Dumbest- Now, the newest plan is to replicate federal employees’ health plan, via The Politico, and voila, tell progressives this is a public option!!!!

The new idea — for the government to create a national health insurance plan similar to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan – seemed to gather momentum as the weekend went on, and the differences between liberals and moderates on the public option became even clearer.

The proposal would take the place of a new government insurance plan currently included in the Senate version of the bill, according to officials involved with the negotiations.

The plan would be administered by the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the federal plan for members of Congress, and all of the insurance options would be not-for-profit offered by private companies.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a public option opponent who is participating in the talks, said the new proposal would do away with the government insurance program in Majority Leader Harry Reid’s current bill, which allows states to “opt-out” of a public option.

For the record, calling this idea the dumbest, is in my title, but did not come from me, nope, it was a quote on page two of The Politico article above, from Timothy Jost, a health-law expert at Washington and Lee University School of Law, who said the idea of replicating federal employees’ health plan was "the dumbest idea yet."

Before going to blogosphere reactions from progressive liberals, some related Obamacare news.

Obama had a meeting, a pep talk with Democrats on Sunday and it seems, from initial reports, that Barack Obama was quite silent about the "public option."

As President Obama finished his speech to the Democratic caucus in the Capitol's Mansfield Room on Sunday afternoon, Joe Lieberman made his way over to Harry Reid.

The independent who still caucuses with Democrats wanted to point something out to the Majority Leader: Obama didn't mention the public option.

Lieberman was beaming as he left the room and happy to re-point it out when HuffPost asked him what Obama had said about the public health insurance option, perhaps the most contentious issue still facing Democrats as they negotiate their way toward a final health care reform bill.

"Well, it was interesting to me -- of course everybody hears with their own ears -- that he didn't say anything about the public option," said Lieberman. "In other words, when he outlined how far we've come on the bill, he talked about the cost-containment provisions; he talked about the insurance market reforms; and he talked about enabling 30 million more people to get insurance. He said these are historic accomplishments, the most significant social legislation, or whatever you call it, in decades, so don't lose it."

Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)says Reid's opt-out plan isn't even being discussed anymore, despite the massive news coverage it received when Reid first proposed it.

Reactions from progressive liberals will be flying out fast and furious, count on it, but one has caught my eye already.

Jacob S. Hacker is the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University, writes at the New Republic blog, "You Call This a Compromise?"

In short, the new compromise proposals are anything but. They represent calls for advocates of the public plan to eat their crumbs and be happy. But a majority of Senators support the public plan. At least two--Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and Senator Burris of Illinois--have said having a real public plan in the legislation is a precondition for their support. Those who believe in the public plan—and, more important, who believe in the principle it embodies: that no American who lacks access to good insurance should be forced to buy coverage from the private plans that got us into our present mess--should stand firm in the face of these non-compromises.

This includes President Obama. He made the public plan part of his promise of change in 2008. Now he needs to put his weight and influence behind the public plan and its essential goals, rather than allow them to be gutted. This is in our nation’s interest. It is also in his and his party’s political interest. A bill that forces people to take private insurance but doesn’t create competition or a public benchmark is a prescription for unaffordable coverage, runaway costs, and political backlash. The “middle ground” is nowhere to stand if it’s going to crumble beneath you.

Emphasis mine.

The lovely thing about the Internet is once it is out there, it stays out there, so let's go back to what Obama has really said.

LA Times, August 17, 2009:

"I think there will be a competitor to private insurers," she said. "That's really the essential part, is you don't turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing."

Gibbs agreed, describing the "bottom line" for the president: "What we have to have is choice and competition in the insurance market."

Obama continues to believe that "the option of a government plan is the best way to provide choice and competition," Gibbs said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

But if there are other means to achieve that, Gibbs said, "the president will be satisfied."

And a day earlier, Obama said at a healthcare forum in Colorado that "the public option, whether we have it or don't have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform."

The Politico- Sept. 2009:

On health care, Obama’s willingness to forgo the public option is sure to anger his party’s liberal base. But some administration officials welcome a showdown with liberal lawmakers if they argue they would rather have no health care law than an incremental one. The confrontation would allow Obama to show he is willing to stare down his own party to get things done.

“We have been saying all along that the most important part of this debate is not the public option, but rather ensuring choice and competition,” an aide said. “There are lots of different ways to get there.”

Washington Post, August 19, 2009:

But at a time when the president had hoped to be selling middle-class voters on how insurance reforms would benefit them, the White House instead finds itself mired in a Democratic Party feud over an issue it never intended to spotlight.

"I don't understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their Waterloo," said a senior White House adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We've gotten to this point where health care on the left is determined by the breadth of the public option. I don't understand how that has become the measure of whether what we achieve is health-care reform."

"It's a mystifying thing," he added. "We're forgetting why we are in this."

Another top aide expressed chagrin that a single element in the president's sprawling health-care initiative has become a litmus test for whether the administration is serious about the issue.

"It took on a life of its own," he said.

In search of new momentum, Obama plans to discuss the matter Thursday with thousands of his most loyal supporters in a nationwide "strategy call" hosted by Organizing for America, a grass-roots arm of the Democratic National Committee.

He is likely to repeat what he and his top surrogates have said for months: that he will not "draw a line in the sand" about the inclusion of a public plan and that no one provision is a "deal breaker" as long as the final legislation embraces his broad principles for reform.

Funny thing here is, it isn't Republicans against the public option that threatens to derail the whole Obamacare initiative, it isn't moderate Democrats either, it is the insistence of the progressive liberals on having the public option or having no health reform at all, that has jeopardized Obama's agenda and Obamacare itself.

That folks, is ironic as hell.

If the Democratic politicians want to start spinning about their latest, "dumbest" idea to date, the replicating of the federal employees’ health plan and call it a public option, they are too late, because liberals are already having a cow.


From what little reporting there is about this proposal (here and here), it seems the idea is basically to create another national exchange as an alternative to the state-based exchanges, or another slightly better exchange run by OPM within the basically useless state-based exchanges. I don’t know what is more sickening; the fact that Democrats will try to slap the word “public option” on existing private insurance coverage and hope everyone is too stupid to notice, or the fact that the current state-based exchanges are such terrible pro-insurance, anti-consumer marketplaces that some senators think an acceptable “alternative” is another exchange designed slightly better.

This “alternative” does not even vaguely resemble a public option. It is simply a marketplace where the OPM will negotiate with private non-profit insurance companies to try to get slightly better deals for people using the program. You will still be forced to buy expensive insurance from the same private insurance companies that have failed us so far. It will not inject any competition into concentrated insurance markets. This is only an exchange. This is similar to how the national exchange is designed in the House bill. This is how the exchanges would have been designed in the Senate bill — until Max Baucus and Olympia Snowe removed every consumer value protection.

mcjoan at DailyKos seems almost resigned:

If this OPM thing does end up being the compromise they settle on and they abandon any semblance of a public option, there are a few things the progressives should insist upon in return: no mandate, increased affordability, and the idea that Howard Dean started floating this summer--lower Medicare eligibility to age 55 in year one. It wouldn't be comprehensive healthcare reform, but it would be significant help.

A late update at Huffington Post shows that Politicians understand it is already too late to start spinning this latest alternative as a public option:

UPDATE II: On Sunday, Snowe told reporters that the proposal is no longer being considered as an alternative to the public option, but is being looked at on its own merits. The change, she said, took place between Saturday evening and Sunday.

Reactions are still coming out so be sure to head over to Memeorandum to see the latest on the Obamacare: dumb to dumber to dumbest.