As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Smiles On A Summer Night

Meet the men and women determined to deny you quality health care:

The fate of the health care overhaul largely rests on the shoulders of six senators who since June 17 have gathered — often twice a day, and for many hours at a stretch — in a conference room with burnt sienna walls, in the office of the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana.

Mr. Baucus says his group will produce the bill that best meets Mr. Obama’s top priorities, broadly expanding coverage to the uninsured and curtailing the steep rise in health care spending over the long term, what policy makers call “bending the cost curve.”

Still, if the three Democrats and three Republicans can pull off a grand bargain, it will have to be more conservative than the measures proposed by the House or the left-leaning Senate health committee. And that could force Mr. Obama to choose between backing the bipartisan deal or rank-and-file Democrats who want a bill that more closely reflects their liberal ideals.

Already, the group of six has tossed aside the idea of a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers, which the president supports but Republicans said was a deal-breaker.

Instead, they are proposing a network of private, nonprofit cooperatives.

They have also dismissed the House Democratic plan to pay for the bill’s roughly $1 trillion, 10-year cost partly with an income surtax on high earners.

The three Republicans have insisted that any new taxes come from within the health care arena. As one option, Democrats have proposed taxing high-end insurance plans with values exceeding $25,000.

The Senate group also seems prepared to drop a requirement, included in other versions of the legislation, that employers offer coverage to their workers. “We don’t mandate employer coverage,” Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine and one of the six, said Monday. Employers that do not offer coverage may instead have to pay the cost of any government subsidies for which their workers qualify. In the House, centrist Democrats have temporarily stalled the health care bill, many lawmakers want to see what Mr. Baucus’s group produces before voting on tax increases in the House bill.

I'd just like to dial everybody back for a second and note that this is the Senate Finance Committee. In practice this hasn't been honored, but in theory the group has jurisdiction over the financing of Medicare and setting up the revenue stream for a health care bill. Since pretty much everything costs something, that mandate has expanded into writing an entire bill. But in an ideal world, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would write the health care bill, and the Finance Committee would direct how to pay for it.

But that wouldn't sit well with Presidents Baucus and Grassley and their kitchen cabinet.

As for the merits of the policy, Jacob Hacker is talking about House Blue Dogs in this op-ed today, but the points are largely the same:

The main worry expressed by the Blue Dogs is that the Congressional Budget Office has predicted that leading bills on Capitol Hill won't bring down medical inflation. The irony is that the Blue Dogs' argument -- that a new public insurance plan designed to compete with private insurers should be smaller and less powerful, and that Medicare and this new plan should pay more generous rates to rural providers -- would make reform more expensive, not less. The further irony is that the federal premium assistance that the Blue Dogs worry is too costly is the reform that would make health-care affordable for a large share of their constituents.

The Blue Dogs are right to hold Obama and Democratic leaders to their commitment to real cost control. But they are wrong to see this goal as conflicting with a new national public health insurance plan for Americans younger than 65. In fact, such a plan, empowered to work with Medicare, is Congress's single most powerful lever for reforming the way care is paid for and delivered. With appropriate authority, it can encourage private plans to develop innovations in payment and care coordination that could spread through the private sector, as have past public-sector innovations [...]

Many Blue Dogs fret that a new public health insurance plan will become too large, despite the CBO's projection that the overwhelming majority of working people will have employer coverage and that the public plan will enroll less than 5 percent of the population. Their concern should be that a public plan will be too weak. A public health plan will be particularly vital for Americans in the rural areas that many Blue Dogs represent. These areas feature both limited insurance competition and shockingly large numbers of residents without adequate coverage. By providing a backup plan that competes with private insurers, the public plan will broaden coverage and encourage private plans to reduce their premiums. Perhaps that's why support for a public plan is virtually as high in generally conservative rural areas as it is nationwide, with 71 percent of voters expressing enthusiasm.

What's funny is that chucking the employer mandate will probably lead to employers dropping coverage if the costs become prohibitive, sending workers into the insurance exchange and, if it exists, the public plan. Under the Senate Finance proposal, however, the public plan is eliminated, and private markets make out like bandits. They force everyone to buy their insurance, and they get more individuals buying coverage, who have less bargaining power than group employers. And because of the obsession that the bill cost no more than $100 billion annually over ten years, that coverage may lack proper subsidies, have lower benefits or increased out-of-pocket costs for the individual.

It's good to see these Senators so happy, however.

...Angry Bear:

"Officials also said a bipartisan compromise would not subject companies to a penalty if they declined to offer coverage to their workers. Instead, these businesses would be required to reimburse the government for part or all of any federal subsidies designed to help lower-income employees obtain insurance on their own."

This would be the most regressive tax ever. If I am an employer and I don't provide health insurance then my tax liability is higher if the family income of my employee is lower. More regressive than a poll tax (Baroness Thatcher must be put out that she didn't think of it). What's worse it depends on family income.

Let's say I don't provide insurance and have two job applicants, one who is a single mother and the other a man with a low salary but a high income wife (say Bill Clinton when he was working as governor of Arkansas for $30,000 per year). I hire the guy, because he can't get subsidized health insurance, so I don't have to give him insurance or pay him a dime.

This is the Baucus Grassley jobs only for people who don't need jobs preliminary draft bill of 2009.

...This is also worth noting:

[I]t does strike me as worth noting that when you read a puff piece in The New York Times about the Gang of Six bipartisan dealmakers in the Senate that vast power is being wielded by people who, in a democratic system of government, would have almost no power. We’re talking, after all, about Max Baucus of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Collectively those six states contain about 2.74 percent of the population, less than New Jersey, or about one fifth the population of California. The six largest states, by contrast, contain about 40 percent of Americans.

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