Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has a new article on Huffington Post ripping the private insurance companies and again calling for her new Health Insurance Rate Authority. While I appreciate the sentiment, the Senator’s promises ring hollow to anyone that has followed the health care debate.
I can’t disagree with what Feinstein is saying at the beginning of her piece about how bad private health insurance companies are:
We cannot turn our backs for one minute because, left to their own devices, I truly believe these companies will look for ways to throw paying customers to the sharks for the sake of profit. A situation currently unfolding in California is further proof of this.
I fully believe the for-profit health insurance companies behave terribly and can’t be trusted. However, unlike Feinstein, I did not vote for a law that will now have the government fine people unless they become customers of these terrible companies waiting to throw people to the sharks.
It is toward the end of the piece that its logic really falls apart.
WellPoint will say that these premium rate hikes cannot be avoided. They will tell us that other factors are to blame: hospital charges, prescription drug prices, the rising cost of medical care. They blame the government. They blame the economy. But the fact is that they are making billions of dollars in profits.
If there was any doubt about whether corporate greed has anything to do with WellPoint’s plan to jack up rates on customers, I think the Reuters investigation answers the question definitively.
In order to prevent these kinds of unfair premium rate hikes on Americans, I have introduced a bill that would establish a health insurance rate authority. It would give the Secretary of Health the mandate to see that rates are reasonable.
I think this proposal strikes the right balance. President Obama took this bill and put it in his version of the health insurance reform reconciliation bill. Unfortunately, it was taken out of the bill due to parliamentary rules, but we haven’t given up.
Feinstein practically accused the for-profit health insurance industry of killing people to make money. When dealing with such evil behavior, you don’t want to find the “right balance” between the needs of the sick people and protecting the business model of the untrustworthy, greedy corporations. This is where you take out the legislative hammer to make sure it can never happen again.
If you think the search for ever greater profits in the health insurance industry is causing terrible problems, the solution is not an agency to maybe cap profits. At the very least, you completely outlaw making a profit off of health insurance. This is what Switzerland did when they adopted health care reform in the ’90s, and in most industrialized countries, it is illegal to sell basic health insurance for profit.
If you think the private health insurance companies can’t be trusted, then you should be fighting to give people the option to sign up for a strong public health insurance alternative. Or, better yet, you take out the big hammer and eliminate private health insurance altogether by adopting Medicare for all (single-payer).
Feinstein’s solution is not only weak, it’s hopeless
The worst thing about Feinstein’s call for a rating authority is not that it is too weak of a solution to deal with the magnitude of the problem, but that it has zero chance of passing. Calling for minor improvements that you can achieve is one thing, but calling for too weak solutions that you know are going nowhere is just pathetic.
The rating authority was taken out of the reconciliation bill because it violated the Byrd rule, so reconciliation is not a viable vehicle to pass it. The providion does not currently seem to have 60 votes in the Senate, and it is unlikely to gain support next year when Republicans pick up more seats. Its passage under regular order especially seems unlikely because they don’t even have the votes to pass the very popular repeal of the health insurance industry’s anti-trust exemption.
If Feinstein really thinks that private insurance companies are untrustworthy, greedy actors waiting to throw people to the sharks, she should be pushing for strong solutions with a viable path to reality. A public option or Medicare buy-in would not violate the Byrd rule, so could pass the Senate with only fifty votes using reconciliation.
I will not hold my breath waiting for Feinstein to demand a reconciliation bill that could be used for a public option. It seems she prefers meaningless grandstanding to advancing real solutions.