Thursday, October 29, 2009

Prospects Dim

Staff writer Sarah Avery of the writes

Maybe it was just lousy timing, but many customers of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina are ticked off at the mail they've received recently from the state's largest insurer.

First, they learned their rates will rise by an average of 11 percent next year.

Next, they opened a slick flier from the insurer urging them to send an enclosed pre-printed, postage-paid note to Sen. Kay Hagan denouncing what the company says is unfair competition that would be imposed by a government-backed insurance plan. The so-called public option is likely to be considered by Congress in the health-care overhaul debate.

"No matter what you call it, if the federal government intervenes in the private health insurance market, it's a slippery slope to a single-payer system," the BCBS flier read. "Who wants that?”

According to the health insurer, the mailings relied on a list of registered voters, not on one of the company’s customers. The post card reads

Senator Hagan,

Please oppose government-run health insurance. We can meet our health care challenges without the government unfairly competing with the private sector. Tell Senate leaders North Carolina doesn’t need government-run insurance.

Fortunately, there is reportedly a grass roots movement to send to Senator Hagan many of these post cards, but with the message so modified (although slightly varying one from the other):

Please support government-run health insurance. We can’t meet our health care challenges without the government competing with the private sector. Tell Senate leaders North Carolina does need government-run insurance.

While this is heartening, as Jason Rosenbaum at Firedoglake has pointed out, the health insurance industry really has few worries. While the House’s health care bill, announced by Speaker Pelosi today, is superior to that of the Senate Finance Committee, it does not contain a “robust” (Medicare plus 5%) public option.

Senator Wyden (D.-Oregon) has been explaining lately that the range of the Senate’s likely bill is inadequate:

If folks at the grassroots level, the folks who are carrying those signs about the public option now, say, "Look, it's not good enough that only 10 percent of the population can hold insurance companies accountable, it's not good enough at a crucial time in American history to have choice available only to a handful of people who are poor and sick and unemployed," that's almost like a health care ghetto....

Let's hold insurance companies accountable the right way by making them put their whole customer base on the line.

Even the House bill (transcript, in PDF)- the more progressive, liberal, and humane alternative- will severely limit the number of people eligible for the public option , thereby creating this “health care ghetto.” As costs of the public option rise, government increasingly will be blamed for a spectacularly expensive health care system. Greater government involvement in health care, with a greater range of plans available to a wider group of individuals and families, would have held down costs, but the irony will be lost on most people, and surely on the media.

This is a time for presidential leadership- not in making deals with the pharmaceutical or the health insurance industries or for urging a Senate bill weak enough so as not to offend the Blue Dogs. It is time, finally, for the leadership that President Obama has yet to demonstrate on this issue. Not likely.

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