by John M. Curtis
Aug 16, 2009
Salvaging his national health care plan, President Barack Obama signaled he’d compromise on his preference for the government-run insurance program. Faced with a lingering recession and growing budget deficits, Barack realized that health reform shouldn’t stretch government spending to the breaking point. Despite promises of finding the necessary funds for national health care, the Congressional Budget Office saw it differently, estimating a $100-200 billion price-tag, decimating the budget and threatening the long-term health of the economy. Growing economic fears forced Barack to switch gears, remaining open to non-profit insurance co-operatives running the program. Calling the so-called public option “not the essential element” of the plan, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathless Sebelius telegraphed the White House’s change of heart.
Proposed by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-S.D.), consumer-owned non-profit co-operatives would sell insurance plans competing with the private sector, advancing the cost-savings and competition envisioned by Obama to tamp down runaway health care costs. Kicking in $3-4 billion, the government would help underwrite the startup costs for the co-ops, while premiums would eventually fund what admittedly would be substantial sums paid out in health care benefits. Co-ops, in turn, would contract, like Medicare and Medicaid, with med-groups, hospitals, labs and clinics to deliver services at steeply discounted fees. “I think there well be a competitor to private insurers,” said Sebelius, accepting that non-profit insurance co-ops should do the same thing as government-run option, forcing the private insurance industry to offer more competitive health plans.
Conservatives hail the president’s willingness to compromise as a political victory, attributing it to nationwide opposition expressed in town hall meetings round the country. Some conservaties, of course, want no part of Obama’s plan, hoping, as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said, to deal the president a political blow. Moderate Republicans, hoping for better times in next year’s midterm elections, want to compromise with the president hoping to demonstrate more mainstream political intincts. “That’s really the essential par, is you don’t turn-over the whole marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing,” said Sebelius, showing the White House flexibility on the so-called public option. Co-ops offer a way forward to Obama’s health care plan during a time of adverse economic conditions preventing the government from picking up the tab.
Obama seemed to hint his willingness to compromise at a town hall meeting Aug. 15 in Grand Junction Co. “All I’m saying is though, that the public option, whether we have it or don’t have it, it is not the entirety of health care reform,” Obama told a mostly hospitable crowd, showing his ace-in-the-hole. Knowing the enormity—and danger—of today’s budget deficits and national debt, Barack showed shrewd political savvy, realizing bipartisan cooperation is the way to go. He can marginalize the GOP base by getting moderates to join his bipartisan coalition supporting health care reform. Conservatives believe there’s little to be done with health care other than give tax breaks or create health savings’ accounts. “This just one sliver of it, on aspect of it,” said Barack, admitting it’s more important to get some version of health care than to get nothing quibbling over the government’s role.
Conservative Republicans and so-called Blue Dog Democrats worried that a government-run insurance plan would put private insurers out of business. Concerns about growing deficits also contributed to opposition to the public option. “It’s not government-run and government-controlled,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Conrad, urging his GOP colleagues to support his co-op plan. Barack’s health reform plan sought to (a) increase accessibility average citizens and (b) reduce runaway health care costs. Health insurance co-ops accomplish the same objective as a government plan without forcing the government to pay the bill. Though the initial costs to the government remain pricey, it’s a far cry from underwriting the $100-200 billion a year needed for the government option Co-ops offer GOP moderates and Blue Dog Democrats the right formula.
Co-ops short-circuit the current ideological battle against national health care. Abandoning the public option, gives GOP moderates and Blue Dog Democrats the wiggle room needed to sign onto Barack’s plan. While forced to compromise, White House officials can live to see another day, hopefully in the not-to-distant-future when the federal government balances its books. For the time being, co-ops offer healthy competition to the private insurance market, forcing the current monopoly to offer more competitive policies. If they eliminate excluding pre-existing conditions, lower deductibles, reduce co-pays and lessen waiting periods, the co-op plans will be a great success. “There is a way to get folks insured without having the government option,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), hoping the GOP gets some of the credit in next year’s midterm elections.
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