House Progressive Caucus members banded together today to introduce HR5808, a new version of a Public Option for universal health insurance. Led by Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), my own Pete Stark (D-CA) and member of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the bill was presented with 128 co-sponsors including all three chairs of the committees of jurisdiction, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor along with an accompanying Congressional Budget Office analysis showing an expected deficit reduction of $68 billion between 2020 and the start date in 2014.
From the press release:
Rep. Jan Schakowsky: “As one of 18 members of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, I am charged with looking for ways to reduce the federal deficits. A public option would trim federal spending by $68 billion from 2014 to 2020, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. And by providing more choice, a public option would also make health care better and more affordable.”
Rep. Pete Stark, Chair of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee: “Today, Consumers Union reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield plans [have] amassed billions in surpluses as they raised rates for millions of Americans. This is a good example of why we need a public option – to create an insurance plan that competes based on delivering quality, efficient care, not on delivering profits to shareholders. The result is more competition, better coverage, and lower premiums for millions of Americans.”
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and President of Americans for Democratic Action: “As the deficit continues to grow, so does the need for a program that can save billions of dollars and improve health care while doing it. The robust public option offers lower-cost competition to private insurance companies. This will make insurance more affordable for those who do not have it and keep insurance affordable for those who do.”
The bill is very similar to the original House Public Option proposal before it was gutted (ThinkProgress has a comparison). It instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a public option among the insurance exchanges to be set up when the current health insurance reform act goes into effect. Both employers and individuals would be allowed to join, and premiums are expected to be 5 – 7% less than comparable private options. The program will pay providers at Medicare rates +5% for three years, with protection in that time from any Medicare cuts.
Reaction from the various factions who battled earlier over this year’s health insurance reform bill flowed along predictable lines.
LA Times writer Noam Levy, a consistent critic of health insurance reform, falsely stated that an earlier Public Option attempt was “roundly rejected” when in fact it was passed in the House and only removed from the Senate version late in the process because of objections by a couple of needed hold-out conservative votes. Levy mocks the new bill as a lame attempt at deficit reduction when that is a benefit but clearly not the primary intent, suggests that it is the first step towards a very scary single-payer system dreaded by insurers, and claims it is opposed by House Democratic leadership when the reality is that it would not have come out with so many sponsors if Speaker Nancy Pelosi was not supportive.
Single-minded single-payer PNHP came out in opposition as well, because the bill isn’t single payer and anything that isn’t single payer is Bad BAD BAD:
We can’t afford to waste political capital on a legislative amendment that merely appeases those who lost the public option debate, but does nothing to build the solid financial infrastructure that we need. Let’s spend all of our political capital on real reform: a single payer national health program….
Never mind that single-payer proponents couldn’t muster enough backers in the recent debate to justify bringing a proposal to the floor of the House for a trial vote, even though Speaker Pelosi made the opportunity available. These PNHP folks would pitch a fit at the idea of taking a first step on a neccessary if arduous journey of a thousand miles, arguing that the right thing to do is to stay put and start work on a teleportation machine.
Over at Firedoglake the Pissing Puppies Chorus howled their derision of the proposal because Jane Hamsher hates Lynn Woolsey and Pete Stark for reasons she just made up, or something. The wheels came off the track there a long time ago, and every post now is just another awful train wreck.
Media Matters has a dissection of how FOX “News” came equally unglued, with their
reporters propagandists erupting in a spew of cobbled-together nonsensical invective that would make Sarah Palin proud. FOX radio babbler Mike Gallagher called it “nationalized health care single payer socialized medicine,” as if we should be so lucky.
For myself, I think this is a fine effort to do something that is much needed and has at least a chance of passage, although it won’t make it through House committees and come to the floor for a vote until after the next Congress is seated. I also think this is a good time to bring it up for debate, so the public that greatly favors a Public Option can ask candidates about it and make an informed voting decision based on their stance. Progressives would be well-advised to push their candidates for support, and press opponents into making their position clear.
The Left isn’t very good at using wedge issues to sway elections. Here’s one we can use, now, and the opportunity should not be wasted.