Politico blog reporting it has draft of public option proposal

June 30, 2009

Here’s the post:

HERE’S A DRAFT OF HELP’s (acronym for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee) LIKELY PUBLIC PLAN PROPOSAL, as provided by a reliable source. If HELP does go in this direction, it won’t be as liberal as the House, but it will be a strong alternative to the coop plan that is the emerging idea in the Finance Committee, but that progressives hate.

HELP Community Health Insurance Option — June 26, 2009


–HHS-based plan: The community health insurance option would be run by HHS. The government would pay for the first three months of claims as a way to capitalize it; this would be a loan to be repaid over time. For the first two years and longer if necessary, the option would also qualify for “risk corridor protections” which offset or reclaim excessive losses and gains which could result during the start-up period (identical to those in Medicare Part D). Subsequently, its premiums would be set to make it self sufficient. This would make the health insurance option quickly available in all areas of the country.

–Plays by the same rules: The option would be one of the Gateway choices. It would follow the same rules as private plans for defining benefits, protecting consumers, and setting premiums that are fair and based on local costs. The only difference between this option and others is that the Secretary would set the reserve requirements for this plan rather than states.

–Provider payments and participation:

• Negotiated rates within limits: The payment rates paid by the option would be no more than the local average private rates – but could be less. The Secretary would negotiate these rates.

• Input from Advisory Councils: Each State would create a Council of provider and consumers to recommend strategies for quality improvement and affordability. States would share in the savings that result.

• Purely voluntary: Health care providers would have the choice of participating in this plan; there would be no obligation to do so.

Why It Will Make Health Care Affordable:

–Pooled purchasing power: This health insurance option can pool the purchasing power of its enrollees nationwide to leverage lower prices to compete with private plans. Similar negotiation power has been used by states to get drug rebates in Medicaid beyond the statutory minimum. It has been used by large businesses to drive delivery system change. This negotiation would be backed by a ceiling of paying no more than average local rates.

–Flexibility and incentives to innovate: Unlike administered pricing, the negotiation for payment rates gives the Secretary the ability to quickly and aggressively promote payment policies that promote quality and best practices. In addition, the State Advisory Councils would tailor delivery system reform for the plan, with a financial bonus for success.

–Lower administrative overhead: The community health insurance option would not need to raise premiums to support shareholder profits, extensive marketing, and extra risk reserves required by require to protect enrollees from plan insolvency or mismanagement of funds.

Sen. Olympia Snowe is enjoying her “skunk-at-the-picnic” role, still fighting to defend Corporate Health’s profits. Politico reports Snowe, in an interview with AP/Maine:

“[S]aid Monday that a government-run plan that would take effect if the private insurance market fails to deliver affordable coverage could bridge the partisan divide that threatens to derail President Barack Obama’s efforts to reform the system. Snowe said she’s working … to establish that kind of a framework in the bill expected to emerge next month from the Senate Finance Committee.

“Snowe said it would be unfair to include a government-run health insurance option that would take effect immediately. ‘If you establish a public option at the forefront that goes head-to-head and competes with the private health insurance market … the public option will have significant price advantages,’ she said.

“Snowe is seen as a key swing vote on health care. She was the committee’s only Republican who declined to go on record as opposing the public option. Snowe said having a government option as a backup would be an approach “that bridges both sides” and gives private insurers a fair chance to meet the requirements of the new law. ‘I don’t think we can entirely depend on the private insurance market to deliver. They haven’t delivered thus far, and that’s why we’re in the predicament we’re in today,’ she said.”

“Snowe told AP she’s working with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the trigger. AP: “Responding to Snowe’s comments, Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon said the Democrat will continue to seek a consensus with Republicans but believes there must be a public option that ‘is available to all Americans from the first day.’”

Darn! A public option will give consumers lower prices. We (meaning those who do the bidding of Corporate Health) can’t have that!

The public option cannot be a “backup.” That will only give Corporate Health time to harden its position and perhaps come up with some short-term maneuvers to “prove” the market system can work. Let them “prove” that from Day 1.

God, do we need Ted Kennedy in there.



Minnesota Supreme Court makes it (more) official

June 30, 2009

Unanimous, btw. (Thanks going to Huffington Post):

Franken Wins (again)

Good news for health care and climate change legislation in the Senate, I’d say.

What do you think, Gov. Pawlenty?

And Sen. Robert Byrd was released from the hospital today. One more vote.


Here’s what the Rs, the conservative Dems, and their corporate benefactors are really afraid of . . .

June 30, 2009

Mark Blumenthal National Journal column

On this day in history, in 1859, French high-wire artist Charles Blondin took five minutes to cross Niagara Falls, as 25,000 gaped.

In 1908, the largest explosion we know of occurred in the Tunguska area of Siberia. No one knows what caused it, but the blast devastated an area 70 miles in diameter. People 40 miles away were flash-burned, and horses in a field 400 miles away were knocked down. There was a firestorm, a seismic shock, but no crater . . . .

In 1921, RCA was formed.

In 1936, “Gone With The Wind” was published.

In 1953, the first Corvette rolled off the assembly line in St. Louis. Price – $3,250 (about $24,000 today).

In 1985, Yul Brynner left the stage for the last time after 4,600 performances as the King of Siam in “The King and I.”

In 1991, Frank Zappa celebrated Hungarian liberation after decades of Soviet occupation at the Taban Jazzfestival in Budapest.

And in 1997, at midnight, Great Britain gave Hong Kong back to China. I’m eating won ton soup to commemorate the event.

Born today – Academy-Award-winning actress Susan Hayward, the incomparable Lena Horne, Florence Ballard, of the Supremes, and boxer Mike Tyson. (Might want to check out the documentary of his life: Tyson video)


Competition? Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

June 29, 2009

So-called “free market” types like to argue how awful government is, how inept, inefficient and costly it is, and how “competition” is the thing that drives success, prosperity, and individual freedom.

Unless and until, of course, said competition comes from outside the tight little corporate circle of power in these United States. One of the arguments the opponents of the public option in health insurance coverage like to use (see, for example, the remarks by that insufferable blowhard from Alabama, Richard Shelby) is that “government-run health care” will destroy our sainted free-market system and take our marvelous health care with it.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, our “marvelous” system ain’t so marvelous when it comes to providing care, although it’s absolutely ace at producing profits. Now there’s a new report from Health Care for America Now, a progressive coalition pushing for affordable care and coverage, that finds that 94 percent of the nation’s health insurance markets are so highly-concentrated (meaning only a few companies operate there) that we don’t have a “free market” at all, but in fact our health insurance is run as a de facto monopoly, with the expected effect on costs.

Read the report, and see what you think:
Health Insurance Markets Report

By the by, today is the day, in 1941, that Joe DiMaggio broke George Sisler’s standing record for number of consecutive games with a hit. DiMaggio hit safely in his 41st game, and the streak would continue for 15 more. Also on this date, in 1925, one Marvin Pipkin would file for a patent for the frosted light bulb. And, in 1955, Bill Haley and the Comets would go Number 1 with “Rock Around the Clock,” a tune that was languishing in obscurity until it was featured in the film, “Blackboard Jungle.”

Born today – George Washington Goethals, the chief engineer on the Panama Canal project; Dr. William Mayo, founder of the clinic that bears his (and his sons’) name; actor/singer Nelson Eddy; power hitter Harmon Killebrew; black power activist Stokeley Carmichael; actor Louis Bert Lindley, Jr., better-known as Slim Pickens; and “Locomotion” singer Little Eva.


The fantasy (or fraud) of market-driven health care

June 28, 2009

Thanks, as often, to Paul Krugman, who pointed out on his blog that economists have known for nearly half a century that a strict market approach to providing health care doesn’t work, citing a 1963 paper by Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow (who is a more honest and credible source than George Will):

Arrow paper

BTW, June 28th is quite a day in history. World War I began on this date in 1914, with the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdenand and his wife in Sarajevo, which set in unstoppable motion a chain of events that led to savagery, and it ended (officially) on this date in 1919, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which helped set in motion the chain of events that led to WWII. Also on this date, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation in 1894 that made Labor Day an official holiday.

Born on June 28th – Henry VIII, who rid himself of wives who did not bear him sons, but sired perhaps the greatest monarch in history, Elizabeth I; the painter Sir Peter Rubens; the founder of the Methodist church, John Wesley; the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Maria Goeppert Mayer, physicist and the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize; bluegrass legend Lester Flatt; writer/director/actor Mel Brooks; composer Richard Rodgers; actress Kathy Bates; comedienne Gilda Radner; and pitcher Al Downing, who gave up home run number 715 to Hank Aaron.

The word of the day is veteratorian, meaning crafty or subtle.


Thanks, Bob

June 27, 2009

June 26th is the birthday of children’s television great Bob Keeshan, the original Clarabell clown on Howdy Doody and better-known without the red nose as Captain Kangaroo. Keeshan was also a long-time advocate for children and, in his later years, I’m proud to say, a Vermonter.

Also born this date – Writer and activist Helen Keller, billiard and pool legend Willie Mosconi, off-the-wall industrialist H. Ross Perot, songwriter Jerome “Doc” Pomus, and actor Toby Maguire.

On this date in 1787, Edward Gibbon completed his magnum opus, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In 1949, the television series Captain Video and His Video Rangers premiered. In 1969, the NYPD set off a riot and helped catalyze the gay rights movement when they raided the Stonewall bar. And in 1970, the Jackson 5 went Number One with “The Love You Save.”

I’m feeling better today, as the Cardinals broke a three-game losing streak on the strength of El Hombre’s two two-run homers. Beat the Twins 5 – 3, but used seven pitchers to do it. Not pretty, but they got the job done. Joel Pineiro, who threw that gem against the Mets last Tuesday, goes tomorrow.


Health reform debate language

June 27, 2009

Right now, it appears opponents of a public option have the advantage in terms of creating the language of the debate. Even the supposedly-liberal NPR refers to the public option as “government-sponsored health care.” As I browse the comments made by the Rs, like Charles Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, I don’t see references to serving patients better, lower patients’ cost, improving access, or improving health. What I see, over and over again, is a central theme – protect the current system, which translates into protect health care corporations’ profits.

The current health profit system is expensive, inefficient, and not particularly good at delivering health care. The World Health Organization noted in 2000 that the US ranked number one in the world in terms of spending-per-capita on health care, but our health care system ranked 37th. France was number one, by the way.