Friday, October 2, 2009

What's In A Name?

FireDogLake is an indispensable resource for anyone looking to stay informed about the health care debate, specifically the life and (sadly) likely death of a robust public option. FDL has remained resolutely optimistic throughout this whole process--a Herculean feat, if ever there was one.

They are currently calling on all interested parties to sign their latest petition (they LOVE petitions at FDL) telling members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus,

"that you will stand with these progressives all the way through conference in their commitment to block the passage of any bill that does not include a strong public option."

That petition, which I signed and encourage anyone who enjoys this blog to sign, can be found here. It takes less than a minute, and although it's easy to poo-poo the significance of a petition, it's probably better to sign this than not to. As Jane Hamsher at FDL writes,

"Maxine Waters. Keith Ellison. Jerrold Nadler. Emanuel Cleaver. Lloyd Doggett. Bob Filner. Chellie Pingree. Lynn Woolsey. John Conyers. These are the names we see over and over again, fighting for health care and the environment and worker's rights and civil liberties. For choice and marriage equality and financial regulation and free speech. They are standing up for what we believe in, resisting the influence of lobbyist money and Rahm Emanuel's thuggery, and if we don't support them when everything is on the line, there is no progressive movement in this country -- we're just going through the motions on the way to inevitable defeat."

Too true.

On a related note, FDL has been reporting on the latest, potentially positive development in the health care debate. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced an amendment to some goddamn version of the bill--I can't keep them straight, and for my point it's not important--that calls for a "basic health plan." Jon Walker writes:

"[W]hat Cantwell's amendment would do is allow states to create a much better exchange for those under 200% of FPL [Federal Poverty Line--JK]. It is an exchange with well-defined minimum benefit package with fixed co-pays, out-of-pocket limits, and deductibles. It would allow real economies of scale to affect negotiations, and mandate a minimum medical loss ratio of 85% for participating insurers. Insurers would be required to meet “specific performance measures and standards,” and their performance would be publicly reported. The basic health program must provide a choice of at least two or more similar plans.

This is closer to a Dutch-, Belgian-, Swiss-style, well-regulated, private system. You get to choose from several similar well-defined plans, knowing all of the plans provide sufficient coverage."

This is a positive development, with one exception. Cantwell keeps referring to her plan as a "public option," which it is not at all. Her idea, in fact, would benefit tremendously from the creation of a government run insurance program, which would simply act as another option which people could choose. Calling Cantwell's plan itself a public option is both misleading and possibly destructive. Why?

Because Harry Reid--who has not been an advocate for a public option at all--is now saying the final Senate bill will in fact contain a public option. As is the far better Senator (from Iowa!) Tom Harkin. Even Sex Escort Max Baucus loves Cantwell's proposal.

The danger here is that Senate Democrats will now start calling Cantwell's basic health plan a public option, thereby giving Senate Democrats a political "win" in the eyes of their constituents, while excluding a real mechanism to lower costs, which will keep the insurance companies placated. That is to say, they'll pass a "public option" without actually passing a public option.

All that aside, Cantwell's amendment does seem like a positive development, even if it is a bit like applying a tourniquet to a leg wound while the patient has an axe in his skull.

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