It is encouraging that Senator Reid respected the will of the American people and included a public option in the merged Senate bill. However, the addition of a state opt-out provision threatens to leave millions of Americans at the mercy of private insurance monopolies, with the federal government acting as enforcers for a product with no competition to keep prices down.
The President set an arbitrary $900 billion 10-year price tag for the final bill. In order to comply with this, the Senate bill delays the ban on excluding people from coverage for pre-existing conditions until 2014. According to a study by the Harvard Medical School, nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year because they lack health insurance and can not get good care, and it is estimated that medical costs contribute to 62% of all bankruptcies. This is a callous decision that has an enormous cost in human lives and untold suffering.
Yet in the midst of quibbling about $90 billion a year for health care, the President just signed a one year $680 billion defense spending bill, which does not include the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This represents a serious problem with the priorities of those in government.
But while people struggling with crippling health care costs and pre-existing conditions may have to wait until 2014 for relief, states can begin opting out immediately. That means for the next four years, health care will become a partisan football at the state level, easily gamed by the same insurance company lobbyist dollars that flooded on to Capitol Hill this year. And just as 42 members of the House did the bidding of PhRMA and inserted language into the Congressional Record in support of their endless monopolies on biologic “drugs of the future,” the Senate bill followed suit and included the Anna Eshoo-written language which prevents generic versions of vital lifesaving drugs from ever coming to market.
Seventy-two percent of Americans believe it is important to give people the choice of a public option when forcing them to buy insurance. They do not trust insurance companies. A clear majority of the Senate agrees with them, and would willingly pass a bill with an unfettered public option. But Harry Reid has capitulated to lobbyist money and has allowed the Senate to be held hostage by Senators like Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson, who have each received over half a million dollars in campaign donations from insurance companies.
It is time to acknowledge that the Senate process is broken and undemocratic, and is working against the interests of the American people. It is too easily gamed by lobbyist money and has become unresponsive to the needs of small businesses struggling to pay for the health care costs of their employees at a time when unemployment is skyrocketing. The Senate filibuster — and the ability of any one Senator to hold the entire body hostage on behalf of lobbying interests — must come to an end.
If Harry Reid truly cares about fighting for the good of the country over the good of Wellpoint, he will immediately dispense with the opt-out and move to reconciliation and allow a majority in the Senate to deliver to Americans what they want and desperately need.