Democratic efforts to include a taxpayer-financed "public" health insurance option in the emerging health reform bill fell short in two crucial test votes in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
Without a public option there will be no way to keep health insurance companies honest. If only Americans could have a government sponsored health insurance option, they could have something to fall back upon if the private insurance companies do not provide a viable alternative for some people.
You would think that with a filibuster proof sixty vote margin in the Senate and with total control of the House, the Democrats would have the wherewithal to pass meaningful health care reform, but I guess not. Five Democrats as well as all Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee voted against a public option today.
Yes, the public option could be revived on the Senate floor, but overruling the mandate of the powerful Senate Finance Committee would be a real long shot. Harry Reid would have to develop some fortitude first and I doubt if that will happen.
So what we have left is a windfall for the private insurance companies who contribute millions of dollars to many of those same senators. What good will it do to require all Americans to purchase private health insurance if they can't afford it? Yes, any final bill will probably include subsidies designed to help low income Americans purchase insurance, but will such a plan work? If the subsidies come in the form of tax breaks as some have suggested, millions of Americans might have to wait until their tax return comes before they could benefit from the subsidies. But can the average American who lives from paycheck to paycheck really afford to wait that long for a subsidy? I doubt it.
Then to add insult to injury, middle income Americans would under the plan passed by the Senate Finance Committee be forced to pay up to 20% of their income on private health insurance. (Link.) I wonder how many middle class Americans could afford that. I doubt if it would be many.
I have long favored a single payer health insurance system like they have in the UK. But if that isn't in the cards politically, I don't think that the proposals passing through Congress at this time can be a viable alternative. It is a very depressing time for those of us who favor true meaningful health care reform in the United States. We are learning that the change that President Obama promised us might be harder to pull off than we had thought. The battle isn't over. It will be a while before a final health care reform bill is passed, so we might still have time to influence reform for the better. But time might be running out.