Thursday, June 25, 2009

Obama Not Going To Vigorously Defend Public Option In Healthcare?

Paul Krugman is furious:

Really bad news on the health care front. After making the case for a public option, and doing it very well, Obama said this:

“We have not drawn lines in the sand other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured,” Mr. Obama said. “Those are the broad parameters that we’ve discussed.”
There he goes again, gratuitously making a big gift to the other side.

My big fear about Obama has always been not that he doesn’t understand the issues, but that his urge to compromise — his vision of himself as a politician who transcends the old partisan divisions — will lead him to negotiate with himself, and give away far too much. He did that on the stimulus bill, where he offered an inadequate plan in order to win bipartisan support, then got nothing in return — and was forced to reduce the plan further so that Susan Collins could claim her pound of flesh.

Given the fact that single payer healthcare was kicked off the table before negotiations even began, I'd say a robust public option would be the next best thing. It'd allow people to drop their greedy and inefficient private insurers and join a Medicare-style government-run plan. This wouldn't do a whole lot to control costs in the long-run -- it'd be almost unsustainable to not talk about the bargaining power of single-payer in the future -- but it would guarantee people affordable healthcare in the short run and force private insurers to curtail many of their more vicious practices.

Obama at one point was a strong advocate of a single-payer system, and now it looks as if he's retreated so far back that he's willing to negotiate away offering any sort of publicly run plan to every single person in the country. That's a huge leap backwards.

The reason the private insurance industry is so fiercely pressuring the Democrats right now is that it fears competition from the government. If it had to compete with an efficient, low-cost plan like Medicare, there's no way the industry could survive in its current form.

What does that current form consist of? I'll let ABC News explain:

"[T]hey confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors," former Cigna senior executive Wendell Potter said in remarks prepared for a hearing on health insurance today before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Potter, who has more than 20 years of experience working in public relations for insurance companies Cigna and Humana, said companies routinely drop seriously ill policyholders so they can meet "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."

"They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment," Potter said. "&(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line."

Of course they don't want to compete with the government. They might have to behave in a civilized manner if that happened. The question is, is Obama ready to force them to do that, or is he going to back down in the face of tremendous lobbying pressure?