Tuesday, September 08, 2009

My letter to Senator Jeff Bingaman

Here is Senator Jeff Bingaman's further information on Public Option (from his website):
How does the "public option" fit into health care reform?

The Need for a Public Option

One key element of the debate we’ve been having is whether to create a so-called “public option” – a health care plan available to all Americans that ensures that there is at least one health insurance option for Americans that is affordable and would focus exclusively on providing meaningful care, not turning a profit. With my strong support, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved a bill which contains a robust public option described below:

  • Run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Secretary of HHS would have the authority to negotiate provider payment rates that are no more than the local average private rates, which would help control costs. The government would provide funding for the first three months of the plan in order to get it up and running and make the public option available in all parts of the country. The funding would be repaid once the public option began operating.
  • Public option would be one of the Gateway choices. The public option would be available to all Americans alongside private insurance options within the newly established health insurance “Gateways.” .
  • States would help tailor a public plan to their needs. Each state would create an Advisory Council to recommend strategies for quality improvement and affordability. This would allow states to implement strategies that would provide efficient, affordable care to their residents.
  • Participation would be purely voluntary; Americans would have the choice of participating in the public option but there would be no obligation to do so.

Good stuff. I like reading it.

Then I read this from Ryan Grim on HuffPo:
The committee chairman, Max Baucus, released a framework of his proposal for the group to discuss Tuesday. The three Republicans declined either to endorse or reject the proposal on their way into the meeting.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said that there was much in the proposal that he could go along with but that he wasn't sure where his Republican counterparts stood. "I don't know anything about their position," he said.
Bingaman, however, has never been the reluctant negotiator. The third Democrat, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), declined to tell a reporter if he could support the Baucus proposal.

Snowe said much of the negotiations will focus on costs.
[Emphasis mine.]

Negotiation is an important and valuable skill. Unfortunately, recent years have taught us that negotiating with Republicans in Congress is nothing more than giving away the store and they STILL won't give anything significant in return - certainly not their support.

I also don't want any part of the Max Baucus plan these folks are pondering. Nothing I have read about it sounds like good news.

The WSJ - a notoriously non-progressive source - says today:
[Obama's] support for the public plan sets up a split with the Senate Finance Committee, which has been drafting the health bill that has been seen as the only hope of winning bipartisan support for a health overhaul in Congress. Over the weekend, the committee's chairman, Montana Democrat Max Baucus, distributed a draft of his health proposal that leaves out the public plan in order to win support from a small group of Republicans. Mr. Baucus's plan costs less than $900 billion over 10 years and would expand insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans. (Read the health proposal here.)
"The only hope of winning bipartisan support for a health overhaul in Congress"? My friends, there is no hope of winning bipartisan support for anything that will meaningfully overhaul health in this nation. Ain't. Gonna. Happen.

So they are considering sacrificing the health and economic well being of the American People "to win support from a small group of Republicans." Hey, why not toss in thirty pieces of silver while you're at it?

The NYT reported on August 26 that:
At a town hall meeting, Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, arguably the most liberal of the Democrats in the group, said he would back the use of a procedural tactic called reconciliation that would allow Senate leaders to move a health bill forward with a simple majority, instead of 60 votes.

“It would be my preference to come up with something we could get some bipartisan support for and try to move ahead with that,” Mr. Bingaman said at the meeting, on Monday in Albuquerque. But he left the door open to a reconciliation bill. “If we are unable to do it any other way, that is an option,” he said. “It is a very difficult option to get implemented, but clearly I would support that if that’s the only way” to enact a measure, he added.
On September 4, prior to the unveiling of the Baucus proposal, the NYT reported:
Two members of the group of six, Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, and Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, have been pushing for a more generous package of benefits, with a higher “actuarial value.” The other Republicans have been pushing for a package that would be more affordable to consumers.
Well, what can I say? I say it's spinach and to hell with it.*

Mike Lux at AlterNet today writes:
The Baucus mark-up only adds to this conventional wisdom, of course. But keep in mind that Senate Finance is almost without question the most conservative committee in either house of Congress right now. Its chair, Max Baucus, is in the top five Democrats in terms of conservatism, and has been historically very close to big business and the ranking Republican on the committee (Grassley). He was happy to cut the deal with Grassley in 2001, against the wishes of the vast majority of the Democratic caucus, for the massive Bush tax cut for the rich that was the main cause of our massive federal deficit over the last few years. Other key committee Democrats like Conrad and Bingaman, of the Gang of Six fame, aren't exactly liberally stalwarts either.

[Emphasis mine]

In his latest newsletter, Senator Bingaman writes:
Ongoing health care reform negotiations have moved from Congressional debates in Washington to discussions in neighborhoods, districts, and town halls across the country. I held four town halls across the state in recent weeks to speak with New Mexicans and listen to concerns and priorities about potential legislation; in turn, I had the opportunity to discuss why I am fighting for reform. Watch footage of the New Mexico First town hall in Albuquerque, or listen to my in-depth interview on health care reform with Dr. Barry Ramo of KOAT News. I remain concerned about many of the misconceptions about the proposals for health care reform. The White House provides a good resource that debunks many of these harmful rumors.
And here is my letter tonight:
Dear Senator Bingaman:

We are now in the very hard work stages on health care reform. I imagine negotiating with some of your colleagues on the Finance Committee is arduous and often frustrating. I applaud you for hanging in there.

As I read these words in the Wall Street Journal today my flesh crawled:

"Over the weekend, the committee's chairman, Montana Democrat Max Baucus, distributed a draft of his health proposal that leaves out the public plan in order to win support from a small group of Republicans."

To my eyes that sounds like sacrificing the health and economic well being of the American People for a few Republican votes.

Has bipartisanship become some golden calf, some Molech to whom we will sacrifice our children?

My message to you is DON'T SACRIFICE THE PUBLIC OPTION. Collegiality is not worth it. For all the brilliant technology and dedicated professionals in this nation health care in the United States is a disgrace. We do not score well on life expectancy, infant mortality, and several other key indicia yet we spend more than any industrial nation. Over sixty per cent of our bankruptcies are related to medical costs. This is simply not acceptable. We need to do better. We must do better.

I beg you to stand firm and not merely support the public option but FIGHT for it.

I have written to you about this before but I cannot remain silent when so much is at stake.

Thank you.

Well, folks, that's all three letters. Have you contacted your elected representatives about health care lately?

--the BB

*I actually like fresh or lightly cooked spinach. This is an old aphorism and the younger among you need not worry if it rings no bells.

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