Max Baucus’s Senate Finance Committee’s proposed healthcare bill shames our nation. The bill mandates that all individuals buy insurance, despite the omission of a government-run public option. Those who do not buy insurance will be fined annually ($950 for individuals, $3,800 for families); those who cannot afford insurance may be waivered from the fine. In addition, the bill includes $500 billion dollars in cuts to Medicare, stipulations on the use of federal money for abortions (rape, incest, and health concerns only), and a prohibition on illegal immigrants to prevent them from purchasing healthcare. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the over $800 billion dollar bill will reduce the amount of uninsured in the country by a mere 26 million over 10 years (compare that to the 40-some million who are currently without healthcare now).
How on earth does this bill improve healthcare? Forcing people to buy private health insurance merely serves to increase the amount of customers for the healthcare industry. Instead of improving healthcare delivery or providing greater access to healthcare through more affordable options, this plan keeps the current system intact and forces everyone to endorse it. As Nancy Pelosi said, “How can we give all these consumers to the health insurance industry with no accountability?” This pseudo-reform bill is an unabashed effort to subsidize the healthcare industry at the expense of the American public, the opposite of what the bill should be doing. Fascism instead of socialism, if you will.
More importantly, feeding private healthcare providers more customers will not help control costs. The Kennedy bill (also known as the HELP committee bill), which included a public option, cost $200 billion less than the current plan ($611 billion versus $800+). Furthermore, a public option would be designed to help control costs, as evidenced by Medicare which uses government cost controls in order to manage its expenses. The Baucus plan attempts to address this concern with a “co-op” system that allows groups of subscribers to buy insurance together at lower premiums. Nevertheless, the amount of people needed to make co-ops successful is inordinately large, and few experts have shown how this system is in any way practical. Personally, I feel the co-op system is a cheap ploy to “co-opt” the entire healthcare reform effort.
Let us also quickly address the current racist, xenophobic concern over illegal immigrants. Since any of these healthcare reform ideas, including the public option, requires people to pay for their insurance, why should anyone be denied the right to pay for healthcare? Excluding illegal immigrants makes no economic sense: those who could potentially buy healthcare may not, and those without it will simply rely on costly emergency care, which the healthcare system ultimately subsidizes. Without a clear economic rationale behind this exclusion, I believe that the concern over illegal immigrants is a pathetic appeal to the racist and xenophobic segments of the American population. These attitudes are best left unendorsed by public figures.
Democrats and Republicans have already come out against the bill. Despite Baucus’ peculiar effort to make this bill bi-partisan (we elected a democratic majority, so why are republicans being given equal weight?), Republicans are dismayed by the cost of the bill and its cuts to senior services (Medicare), while progressive Democrats are outraged over the omission of a public option.
I am personally appalled by what I saw come out of the Senate Finance Committee today: this bill is an affront to all of us who voted in an administration that we believed would push through progressive reform against the will of big business. While I have always been too cynical to believe that the Democrats were ever inclined to socialist, progressive, or even liberal reform, I am nevertheless disappointed by these latest developments. I hope that liberal Democrats block the measure and force the bill to be rewritten to include a public option.
For additional information about what is contained in the proposal, check out Time’s article here.