That will be the last 10 minutes I watch of this series.
A couple nights ago, a friend and I sat at dinner next to a table of two older couples going on and on about health care reform and how they were going to get screwed. It took everything I had not to interject and straighten them out, but my friend pointed out that I was – in fact – eavesdropping, and it would be best if I just tried to let it go for the time being.
Insurers participating in the Advantage program responded to inquiries by Senate Democrats that led to a report this month providing some fuel in their fight against the subsidies. The companies reported, on average, spending more than 15 percent of premium revenues on profits, marketing and corporate expenses, nearly 10 times the rate of traditional Medicare.
Meanwhile, Advantage companies were paying for multimillion-dollar corporate retreats in exotic locales and hundreds of their executives were being paid more than $500,000 annually. Government reports have shown Medicare Advantage providers continually outpace profit projections. The congressional review released this month showed 34 Advantage companies devoted $27 billion in government subsidies from 2005 through 2008 to profits, marketing cost and other corporate expenses.
As I’ve said before, cutting overpayments to private insurers does not mean a cut to Medicare Advantage benefits UNLESS that’s what private insurance companies CHOOSE to do. It’s up to them. If they get less government subsidy money, they can cut marketing, salaries, overhead, administrative expenses, lobbying, advertising, corporate retreats, bonuses, etc. before they touch benefits. They might not, but that’s not the government’s fault. That’s all on private insurance companies. Plain and simple.
Nothing like a little C-SPAN2 first thing in the AM.
I just watched the Senate pass its health care bill with a vote of 60 to 39. Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) did not vote.
“With passage by the Senate, the nation has moved one big step closer to comprehensive health care reform. Health Care for America Now will work to get the strongest bill to the President’s desk, one that provides good, affordable coverage to all and holds insurance companies accountable. To realize the promise of reform, we need to be sure that employers are required to help pay for good coverage for their workers, that premiums are affordable to families, that we do not tax benefits, that we enact tough insurance regulations, and that we offer the choice of a public health insurance option. We will urge President Obama to work with leaders in both houses of Congress to agree on legislation that meets these goals, guaranteeing good health coverage we can count on.”
I’m staying in DC this season, welcoming a close friend into town and then celebrating with the rest of the stragglers I know who are either too strapped or too exhausted to venture elsewhere.
The next step for health care reform is focusing on getting the best bill possible to the President’s desk some time in the first part of the new year. That means fighting for things like true affordability, employer responsibility, no taxation of higher cost health care plans, and the choice of a public health insurance option.
You can help by signing our letter to leadership and the President at FinishReformRight.com.
Meanwhile, I am going to try my very best to disengage and relax over the next week or so. I’ll check in here on occasion, but in general, expect things to be slower than usual. I’m determined to give myself time off for good behavior. (Don’t laugh. It’s possible.)
Happy holidays. Have a good one.
Jacob Hacker in TNR:
As weak as it is in numerous areas, the Senate bill contains three vital reforms. First, it creates a new framework, the “exchange,” through which people who lack secure workplace coverage can obtain the same kind of group health insurance that workers in large companies take for granted. Second, it makes available hundreds of billions in federal help to allow people to buy coverage through the exchanges and through an expanded Medicaid program. Third, it places new regulations on private insurers that, if properly enforced, will reduce insurers’ ability to discriminate against the sick and to undermine the health security of Americans.
These are signal achievements, and they all would have been politically unthinkable just a few years ago.
Progressives have good reason to be angry. Yet we should harness our anger to fix the bill–now and every year from now. The current bills in Congress do too little to help Americans immediately; their main actions are delayed for years. If and when legislation passes, progressives should demand immediate concrete actions to make the promise of a reform a reality more quickly and more effectively.
So a bill must pass. Yet it must be a better bill that passes. And it must be understood by the President, the Congress and every American as only a step–an important but ultimately incomplete step–toward the vital goal that the campaign for the public option embodied: good affordable health care for every American
We shouldn’t have had to settle for half a loaf. If the president had simply placed appropriate blame on the health insurance industry for its pre-existing conditions, it’s cutting off care for breast cancer victims in the middle of treatment, and its doubling our premiums and co-pays during the Bush years, he would have harnessed populist anger and pushed this bill through six months ago, and it would have looked like the change we were told to believe in. But if you cut backroom deals with every special interest who is part of the problem and offer the American people no coherent message while the other side is messaging straight out of the messaging memo written by Frank Luntz (“government takeover,” “a bureaucrat between you and your doctor”), you can expect half a loaf. And the other half will be paid for by middle class taxpayers, as in the Senate bill, which includes provisions like taxing good middle class tax plans like PPOs, which will disappear as soon as insurance companies and big businesses have the excuse of the missing tax break. Remind me, when we’ve just had the largest transfer of wealth to the upper 1 percent of the country from working and middle class Americans in a century, why it would be such a terrible thing instead, as in the House bill, to ask people who make over a million dollars a year to pony up for the health care of their (and their friends’) housekeepers, instead of taking away health care plans union workers traded for salary increases?
The whole thing is here.
On the work front, the Senate completed the first of several procedural votes early this morning which will lead us towards final passage of that bill sometime late Thursday. NYT:
The roll was called shortly after 1 a.m., with Washington still snowbound after a weekend blizzard, and the Senate voted on party lines to cut off a Republican filibuster of a package of changes to the health care bill by the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada.
The vote was 60 to 40 — a tally that is expected to be repeated four times as further procedural hurdles are cleared in the days ahead, and then once more in a dramatic, if predictable, finale tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
It’s good to be moving forward. The key now is to work as hard as we can to get the strongest bill possible to the President’s desk, hopefully before the end of next month. What we’d like to see:
- Fair financing instead of taxation of higher cost health care plans
- True affordability
- A public insurance option to bring choice and competition to the marketplace
- Employer responsibility so people get good coverage at work, and it’s coverage they can afford
That’s the wish list. Here’s hoping Santa’s paying attention.
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst