Weekly Pulse: Key Dems Back Public Insurance Option

Lindsay E. Beyerstein

The chairs of five key congressional committees have finalized a plan for healthcare reform, and their blueprint includes a critical public option.

The chairs of five key congressional committees have finalized a plan
for healthcare reform, and their blueprint includes a critical public
option. The chairs’ decision to support government-administered health
insurance for everyone who wants it is sure to attract ferocious
opposition from both the insurance industry and its patrons in the GOP.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also put single-payer healthcare on the
agenda by introducing the American Health Security Act (AHSA) of 2009.
John Nichols of The Nation describes the bill
as an important piece of legislation. If AHSA became law, it would
create a federal health insurance system administered by the states.
The insurance program would give patients an unlimited choice of
doctors and hospitals because their insurance would cover them
everywhere. The proposed program would be financed by redirecting
current healthcare spending and supplementing the total with a modest
tax increase that would cost most consumers less than their current
health insurance premiums.

As Ezra Klein of TAPPED explains in his public insurance primer,
single payer healthcare is a step beyond the public option. Under
single payer, the government is the sole supplier of health insurance,
whereas, under the public option, consumers are allowed to choose
public or private insurance. Public insurance will be cheaper and more
comprehensive because the government will be able to use its vast
bargaining power to lower prices. Also, U.S. government administered
health insurance plans like Medicare and SCHIP consistently spend a
smaller portion of their budgets on administrative costs than private
insurers. Republican Congressional leaders are opposed to the public
option because they fear that the private insurance industry won’t be
able to compete with government-administered insurance.

Dave Weigel, the Washington Independent‘s crack conservatologist, interviewed
Rick Scott, the founder and principle funder of Conservatives for
Patients Rights. CPR has been running ads nationwide warning that Obama
is plotting a government takeover of healthcare. Scott also resigned
from Colombia/RCA, a for profit-hospital corporation, in the middle of
a $1.7 billion fraud investigation. Weigel asked Scott if he was
concerned that his past might color public perceptions of his current
healthcare advocacy:

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TWI: People can still say, "Look, this was the guy who resigned in the biggest fraud settlement in American history."

RICK SCOTT: But, you know, we were
the biggest company. If you go back and look at the hospital industry,
and the whole health care industry since the mid-1990s, it was
basically constantly going through investigations. Great institutions,
like ours, paid fines. It was too bad.

With all the talk about healthcare reform, it’s easy to forget that
there’s more to health than insurance or the medical care it can
provide. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!
explored the bigger picture with Dr. Steven Bezruchka, a public health
scientist who studies how inequality itself makes us sick.

Yesterday, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius had her first Senate confirmation
hearing yesterday for the post of Secretary of Health and Human
Services. As Emily Douglas of Rewire notes, last week, Sebelius signed a bill
into Kansas law that would force women to undergo medically unnecessary
ultrasounds before obtaining abortions. The normally pro-choice
Sebelius probably signed the bill to dodge controversy before her confirmation hearing, according to Dana Goldstein of TAPPED.

Agit prop ultrasounds are a favorite tool of anti-choice activists,
who claim that the sight of the sonogram is necessary to informed
consent. But women have been making decisions about abortions without
sonogram assistance since the beginning of civilization. In practice,
the ultrasounds are just another obstacle that anti-choicers throw in
the path of abortion providers. It’s disconcerting that Sebelius was
willing to sign a frivolous law to ease her own confirmation.

Rewire‘s Kay Steiger offers a first hand account
of Sebelius’s first day of confirmation hearings. The governor said she
supports a public option for health insurance and opposes conscience
clauses for healthcare providers who seek to deny women abortion and
contraception on religious grounds.

Finally, members of Congress are engaged in last minute wrangling
prior to a vote on Obama’s budget. Democrats may try to use the budget
reconciliation process to put healthcare reform to the Senate in a
filibuster-proof format. (Due to an obscure rule,
the Senate can pass a budget reconciliation with a simple majority, but
only if the provisions in the budget are deemed to relate directly to
spending and revenue.) Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo reports that Congressional Republicans are vehemently denouncing the reconciliation option. Surprise, surprise.

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