Congress Sells Out To Insurance Lobby

by Tyler Murphy
Columnist

For the past several months I have devoted much of my column space to argue for meaningful health care reform as members of Congress and the Obama administration grappled with this issue. You would think, then, that I would use this week’s column to trumpet the success of a health care bill – which was passed by both Houses and signed by the president last week. But I have never considered myself a cheerleader in this process. Rather, I see myself as an advocate – using whatever limited means I have to make a case not for a health care bill but for a meaningful health care bill. The meaning of reform, unfortunately, was lost in the haste for a headline and at the hands of a multibillion-dollar insurance lobby. Before blindly applauding “reform,” we should understand how this may have been an opportunity lost.

Don’t get me wrong – I do not buy the hype of tea baggers who claim that this bill is a violation of state’s rights, will lead to “death panels,” etc. In fact, these are provisions that I applaud and have advocated for on these very pages. Beginning this year, insurance companies will be prohibited from denying insurance on the basis of a pre-existing condition and we will finally begin to close the Medicare “donut hole” that forces too many seniors to bear the high costs of prescription medication.

While the legislation includes an individual mandate – requiring everyone to purchase some form of health insurance – this provision is meaningless without a public option. Under the legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president, individuals will be forced into the existing private insurance monopoly system. Without the competition that would have been created by the public option, what incentives do insurance companies have to lower prices and improve practices? Since all citizens will be required to purchase insurance and since there is no public plan from which these citizens can choose, insurance companies will reap the benefits of millions of new customers and billions in premiums.

And yet public opinion polls over the past year showed that a vast majority of the people supported the public option. But Congress and the Obama administration chose instead to follow the bidding of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries – who desperately wanted a seat at the table because they knew they could manipulate “reform” so that it would only reinforce the status quo. And they certainly succeeded. It is no surprise that after this legislation was passed in the House of Representatives on Sunday, insurance and big-pharma stock skyrocketed Monday morning – outpacing the broader market in celebration of their victory. Indeed, the mouths of insurance company executives are salivating over the prospect of 30 million new government-mandated customers without any antitrust provisions or incentives to lower prices and rein in costs.

And just as egregious, votes for the final bill were bought by sacrificing the Democratic party’s long-held commitment to women’s rights, the right to privacy and reproductive freedom. In a last-minute, closed-door deal brokered between the White House and Rep. Bart Stupak, the conservative Democrat from Michigan agreed to drop his amendment to the bill – which would require a woman to purchase private abortion coverage separately from her private health care plan, after obtaining the consent of her employer, male partner or parents – in exchange for an executive order enacting the amendment as law separate from the health care bill. This amounts to a national parental or spousal consent for the minority of women who find themselves in the difficult position of needing an abortion – subjecting women to be further victimized by controlling partners. In addition, it further stigmatizes women who have had abortions or who find themselves with no other option. In another insult to women and reproductive rights, the bill excludes birth control from the list of “essential services” insurance companies must cover in their most basic plans.

The passage of this health care bill was certainly historic. But that doesn’t mean this was not a bad bill. And it was a bad bill because its passage was secured by selling out to the insurance lobby – creating an individual mandate without a public option – and further eroding the constitutional rights of women. The Democratic leadership had over a year to make this right. They had over a year to demonstrate the leadership necessary to push through a meaningful piece of legislation. Unfortunately, they squandered this opportunity and wasted the people’s time. The United States Congress has an obligation to represent the American people. In passing this particular bill, they failed in that fundamental responsibility.

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One Response to Congress Sells Out To Insurance Lobby

  1. Emil Polashek says:

    Hmmm. It’s been a long time since I studied the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps you could quote the portion of the document that would lead you to believe the authors meant to say people have a right to abort a pregnancy?

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