For almost a year, President Obama has spent countless hours trying to woo Olympia Snowe to support heath care reform. He has been willing to bend over backwards to give in to almost every one of her demands. It is very unfortunate that Snowe decided to use her new-found power for evil instead of good.
Snowe used her leverage to almost exclusively ensure very bad ideas made their way into the final bill. She fought to reduce the minimum actuarial value of “qualified” insurance to 60%. A level that I feel every health care policy experts would define as junk insurance. She was instrumental in making sure that the state regulation-gutting “nationwide plans,” much sought after by insurance companies, remained in the bill.
Even though Snowe claimed her top concern was to ensure reform would make health care affordable, many of her demands will end up making health care reform more expensive for the government and the average American consumer. She made sure John Kerry ‘s amendment to turn the new state-based exchanges into prudent purchasers failed. Despite the fact that the CBO concluded a public option would reduce costs for the government and bring down average premiums on the exchange, Snowe threatened to filibuster the bill if it contained a public option.
Not everyone of Olympia Snowe’s health care reform ideas are terrible. She has one very good idea that has broad, bipartisan support and is proven to “bend the cost curve.” That idea is Byron Dorgan’s amendment to allow for drug reimportation, which she has cosponsored. It would finally give Americans the legal right to buy the exact same drugs for less money from Canada or Europe.
The amendment will bend the cost curve and improve affordability. The CBO projects that it will save the government $19 billion, and the American consumer roughly $100 billion over ten years. This is the only idea I have heard from Snowe that will actually deal with her reported concerns about cost without reducing quality.
Instead of killing the public option, or reducing minimum qualified insurance to junk level, why did Snowe not make this reimportation amendment one of her top demands? Why was a bipartisan, proven method to instantly provide relief for millions of Americans not the number one “must have” concession on her list? I think it is likely if she took a hard line on the issue, Obama would have traded it to her in exchange for a final vote on cloture. Senator Snowe, why did you not use your power for good?
The only thing sadder than Snowe’s failure on the matter is Obama’s complete betrayal. He repeatedly campaigned on the issue, but quietly traded it away to PhRMA with a sweetheart deal. Now, the president is resorting to Karl Rove-style dirty tricks to kill an amendment he once cosponsored. His FDA commissioner penned a ridiculous letter against Dorgan’s amendment. Maybe there was nothing Snowe could have done. It is possible Obama is so in bed with the drug industry that he would not have considered breaking his secret deal, even to win Snowe’s vote, should it be needed to pass the bill.