Good Day For Baucus, Bad Day For Real Reform

I'm sure Chairman Baucus, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and President Obama are all pleased that Republican senator Olympia Snowe voted for the Baucus bill in committee. Their goals have long been to pass anything they could slap the label “health care reform” on and declare victory. Sadly, Snowe's support could signal a bad day for real reform.

Snowe has long been opposed to some of the most important elements of reform. I'm not just referring to her opposition to a real public option and her support for a worthless trigger proposal.

Snowe opposes a real employer mandate, and instead favors a disastrously stupid “free rider” provision. It could have serious consequences for low-income workers.

She is against giving the exchanges the power to negotiate with private insurance companies. This is a provision that should help keep down the cost of health care. It would save individuals money and the government money. Snowe fears it is too much government involvement. John Kingsdale, who runs Massachusetts's exchange, called Snowe's insistence that the exchanges not have the power to negotiate price with insurance companies a recipe for disaster.

Just today, during the committee hearing, she reaffirmed her support for “national plans.” This would allow health insurance companies to sell national plans in any states. Individuals state would lose the power to regulate these insurance plans sold in their states. The national plans would be exempt from all minimum benefit requirements mandated by the state legislature. This has been for a long time one of the top goals of the for-profit health insurance industry.

These are only the few changes that I know Snowe requested. Other good ideas, like a minimum medical loss ratio for insurance sold on the exchange, a stronger regulator, and a better defined minimum benefits package, could also have been excluded at the request of Snowe. For Example, Cantwell's “basic health plan” amendment did not get Snowe's vote in committee. It may be left out of the merged bill because Snowe opposes it.

I fear all of these terrible ideas from Sen. Snowe will make their way into the final bill. Obama has signaled his desperation to win the support of Snowe, and seems willing to accept any idea she has regardless how bad. Snowe's vote may make it easier for the Democratic leadership to declare a political victory, but the cost of winning Snowe's support could be that health care reform is a policy failure. In which case, it is the American people who are the real losers.

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