Healthcare Lobby Played Reform Beautifully

Healthcare Not for AllCongress this week reopened the healthcare debate as the Democrat-controlled House and Senate work out a compromise over two separate pieces of legislation.  No surprise that a public option will not be in the final bill, primarily due to opposition from conservative Democrats.   Legislators nonetheless promise some form of increased competition against insurance providers.

While many industry watchers feel that that insurance lobby succeeded in killing any type of real healthcare reform, Republicans alone will eventually feel the brunt of voter recourse. The GOP was opposed to healthcare reform ever since President Obama first promised an overhaul immediately after taking office early last year.   

Coincidentally, Republican Senators who opposed their version of a healthcare bill received an average of nearly 30% percent more political donations from PACs and individual employees of health and health insurance-related groups and companies since 1989.  While this figure may be reflective of varying policies among past administrations, the numbers tell a different story, especially given the GOP’s resistance to healthcare reform. 

Why isn’t the healthcare lobby taking on more heat?  That’s a good question.  One possibility is that consumer attitudes towards the insurance industry already are at an all time low.  Another reason could be that consumers are powerless against the insurance lobby, a key factor for reform.  Regardless, the industry’s political machines have pretty much gone unscathed since Congress took up healthcare reform, yet again, in 2009.   

Who’s at risk?  Republicans have the most to lose in terms of an electorate backlash, unless their “anti-Obama” strategy works, and the economy tanks even further and healthcare reform ultimately fails.  This is unlikely since the economy seems to be turning around and some type of healthcare reform is on track to pass before the president delivers the State of the Union.  Until reform is actually in place, right now it’s business as usual for the healthcare lobby as they continue a “stealth” strategy against reform.

Public Option is Why Healthcare Reform Will Fail

Sen. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), left, along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

Sen. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), left, along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday voted down two amendments that included some form of a public option to healthcare reform legislation.   Proposals by Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) were defeated by 15-8 and 13-10 margins, respectively.   

Both defeats come just two weeks after Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the finance committee, released his own healthcare bill that did not include a new government insurance plan to compete with private insurers.   

While Mr. Baucus and Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) voted against both public option proposals, Sens. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) voted against the first amendment, but supported the second.  Schumer’s bill was the more conservative of the two, appealing to the Senate Finance Committee’s mostly old school membership.   

Is the public option DOA with the finance committee?  On the contrary, a more conservative government-run plan may actually fly but not get the votes of Republicans, who coincidentally, voted yesterday against both amendments.    

Passage of a health care bill without including a government-run program will be seen as a failure to President Obama, even though his administration did not lobby strongly for a public option.  It’s now in the hands of the Democratic majority in Congress.   

Most Americans want to see a public option in health care reform legislation.  Republicans however seemed to have voted against public option proposals primarily based on party politics rather than political ideology.   

There is an upside however. Even though a public option failed to pass through the Senate Finance Committee, three healthcare reform bills in the House and one from the Senate Health Committee, already include some form of a government-run plan or public option.  Let’s hope the American people get what they want.