The High Price Of Snowe

The public option has gotten most of the attention as of late, but sacrificing it is only the tip of the iceberg for Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Snowe is not just on the wrong side of the issue on the public option, she is demanding several incredibly bad provisions ans policies be part of a health care bill in order for it to garner her support.

Sen. John Kerry wanted the Senate Finance Committee bill to give the new exchanges some power to bargain with insurers. This would likely help reduce the price of insurance on the exchange. It is something that is part of all the bills that passed the four other committees. Why did Kerry's amendment fail?

The reason, several sources on Capitol Hill say, was opposition from Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican who also sits on Senate Finance. Snowe seems to be concerned that a more aggressive exchange would amount to more government--which, in fact, it would be. But, as Massachusetts has shown, sometimes more government is exactly what health care needs.

Snowe almost singlehandedly made the exchange worthless.

Jon Kingsdale, who runs the Massachusetts exchange, calls that a recipe for "policy disaster," as consumers faced a dizzying array of more expensive, less regulated choices. "It would be like telling your grocery store they have to offer every single kind of bread baked by every single bakery. . . . The exchanges would be nothing more than an automated Yellow Pages."

This is not the only time that Snowe has demanded an awful policy change. Unlike the other bills, the Senate Finance Committee bill does not have an employer mandate. Instead, it has a form of “free rider” provision, which makes companies who don't provide insurance pay a fine for each employee who gets tax credits to buy health insurance. Besides being a bureaucratic nightmare to enforce, it could have serious negative consequences for low income job seekers. For some reason, Snowe wants this bad free rider provision instead of an employer mandate.

A worthless trigger instead of a public option, weak, poorly regulated exchanges, the terrible “free rider” provisions--these bad policies might all be part of reform legislation in order to win Olympia Snowe. (I think we will be finding out for months what other bad ideas Snowe demanded be part of the bill.) In an effort to win Snowe health care reform is being crippled. Winning her could cost the government hundreds of billions of dollars and regular American families a few thousand a year in higher premiums. Is one Republican vote really worth the high price of Snowe?

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