The process has been messy, but there's still a lot to cheer about in the battle for health-care reform.
After talking about universal health care for more than 60 years, ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt first contemplated making it part of Social Security, Congress is closer than ever before to making it happen. For the first time, a congressional committee has approved health-care reform legislation. In fact, five committees have endorsed versions of this year's bill. In 1993, Bill Clinton's plan never received a single congressional hearing. For the first time, legislation has reached the floor of both houses of Congress, and has already been approved by one.
Not only that, but both bills are worth voting for. Although neither, unfortunately, is a single-payer plan, they are both vast improvements over the status quo, especially the House bill. But even the Senate bill contains many important provisions. Check it out. You'll find a link to the entire 2,074-page bill on my website.
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On Page 16 of the Senate bill, you'll discover that insurance companies are prohibited from dropping your coverage or watering it down when you get sick and need it most. On Page 17, you'll find that preventive care – like mammograms, colonoscopies or annual check-ups – would be completely free, with no cost sharing. Page 18 extends family coverage for young Americans through the age of 26. On Page 78, insurance companies are banned from refusing to sell you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. And Page 307 offers tax credits to small businesses to help them afford insurance for their employees.
See what I mean? Lots of good stuff here, even in the Senate bill. And that's the good news. But here's the bad news: Once debate begins on the Senate floor, the Senate bill risks becoming a lot weaker, thanks to the head-up-their-rectum attitude of Sens. Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Joe Lieberman, all of whom have vowed to vote against, or even filibuster, the final bill if it still contains any version of a public option.
OK, let's start right there. As wrong as it is, any senator is free to vote against health-care reform if he or she decides to do so. But for any senator to stage a filibuster, preventing other senators from even voting on the bill, is downright anti-democratic and un-American – and any Democratic senator or independent (read Joe Lieberman) who does so should be abruptly thrown out of the Democratic Caucus and thrown out of office at the next election.
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Beyond that, any senator who opposes the public option is simply dead wrong. And is, in effect, simply fronting for the insurance companies, instead of fighting for the American people.
This isn't rocket science. The problem with health insurance today is that private insurance companies enjoy a total monopoly in the industry. They can charge whatever they want. They reject or drop whomever they want. They can, and do, raise premiums whenever they want. More interested in profits than in patient care, they are the No. 1 reason why the cost of health care is out of the reach of most Americans today.
As President Obama understands, short of a single-payer solution, the only way to curb runaway health-care costs is to force private insurance companies to compete. Competition in health care is as vital as competition in phone service. And that means offering consumers a choice: between any one of a thousand private insurance plans and one, government-sponsored, Medicare-based, public plan.
Without the public plan option, no health-care reform plan is worth it, because, in effect, it would amount to nothing more than a huge windfall for private insurance companies. Think about it. The House bill would extend coverage to 36 million Americans currently without health insurance; the Senate bill, to 31 million. Yet neither bill includes a cap on how much insurance companies can raise annual premiums. So, without a public plan option – without giving consumers the option of buying into a cheaper, cost-effective, public plan – health-care reform legislation would be nothing but a huge boondoggle to insurance companies: giving them more than 30 million new customers to fleece.
Often, in legislation, half a loaf is better than none … but not this time. No bill at all would be preferable to a health-care bill without a public plan option.